TTIP negotiators lower expectations
The 15th round of negotiations over the EU-US free-trade deal TTIP ended last Friday (7 October) in New York without much fanfare.
At the concluding press conference, US and EU chief negotiators Dan Mullaney and Ignacio Bercero spoke at length about the rationale for a transatlantic trade pact, rather than reporting on the round's results.
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The previous one, in July, closed with the goal to conclude negotiations by the end of the year.
That bar is now set much lower.
“If we cannot conclude negotiations by the time the Obama administration leaves in January, we hope at least to have a consolidated text laying out the positions of the EU and US side by side,” one EU official said.
This would set out the achievements of the last three years' negotiations, if the next US president chooses to proceed with the talks.
The 15th round mostly focussed on technical details and solving conceptual and linguistic differences.
Quicker progress is made difficult by the need to sacrifice sacred cows on both sides of the Atlantic, such as opening up public procurement markets in the US and scrapping the special treatment of EU agriculture products protected by geographic names.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU reduced the significance of the deal, and public discontent in Europe is adding to the problems.
According to the last Eurobarometer in July, the majority of Europeans still support TTIP but their share is falling in all countries but Sweden.
Some of those most opposed - the French and Germans - are heading to the election booth next year, and their governments' support seems to be waning.
Germany’s social democratic vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has called the negotiations ”de facto dead”, and France’s trade minister Matthias Fekl said he would urge EU colleagues to stop the talks.
No funeral yet
Eventually, EU trade ministers decided at their latest meeting to pursue talks until January, when a "natural pause" would occur as the Obama administration left the White House and his successor would need months to put an own team into place.
But Gabriel Siles-Brugge, an associate professor in politics at Warwick university, told this website nobody was planning TTIP’s funeral yet.
“It was entirely foreseeable that negotiations wouldn’t end under the Obama administration,” said the academic and co-author of a book called The Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The talks are most likely to resume in late 2017, Siles-Brugge said, adding that Brexit could facilitate TTIP talks because the EU might be more willing to compromise now that it was losing leverage.
"Brexit strengthened the political imperative to show unity and deliver results," the politics professor said.
The comprehensive trade deal has only been three years in the making, while it took five to conclude CETA, a similar agreement between the EU and Canada.
TTIP and CETA not so different
CETA negotiations ended in February.
The deal is due to be ratified at an EU-Canada summit later this month, pending the approval of national and some regional governments.
Siles-Brugge argued that Ceta and TTIP weren't so different.
"Both go far beyond eliminating trade barriers, and both constrain by rather subtle means the space governments have to pursue public policy," he said.
"It doesn't stop governments from regulating, but it makes it more costly and cumbersome for them to do so."