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5th Apr 2020

TTIP's future in Trump's hands

  • Malmstrom argued that the trade policy should remain an EU competence, despite its legitimacy problem (Photo: European Commission)

It is up to the new American administration to decide if they want to continue the EU-US free trade talks, EU officials said on Wednesday (9 November), highlighting the deep uncertainty about US president-elect Donald Trump's policies.

"We frankly don't know," EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said about the future of the TTIP talks.

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She told members of the European Parliament's trade committee that she would assess by the end of the year with the member states and the current US administration where the negotiations stand, and then there will be a pause in discussions.

The Trump administration will come to power in January. Malmstroem said it was up to them to decide how long this pause will last.

Jyrki Katainen, the commission's vice-president for competitiveness acknowledged that during his campaign Donald Trump made "statements which can be interpreted as being against free trade".

But the Finnish commissioner argued that there is still lots of interest for TTIP among the administration, the authorities, and the business sector in the US.

"The transatlantic relationship has lots of values, I really don't believe that either side would like to jeopardise the transatlantic relationship.
 It's not a question of persons. We are representating the same value basis, together with the Americans," Katainen said.

He conceded that "the only thing that is sure now is uncertainty".

"We just have to keep calm and wait when we start getting answers from the administration and the president," Katainen said.

US officials seemed to have equally vague ideas about TTIP's fate.

US ambassador to the EU, Anthony L. Gardner told journalists on Wednesday that TTIP remains important for strategic and political reasons.

"But there is no denying trade deals will be difficult to do in this atmosphere," he said, adding the EU and the US share a challenge on how to convince people to see globalisation and free trade as a source of opportunity, not just a risk.

Legitimacy problem

At a EU parliament's trade policy event, Bernd Lange, chairman of the EP's trade committee warned that open trade policy is not something Europeans can take for granted anymore.

"There is a feeling that something uncontrollable is happening, people will be afraid of it and start opposing it. We have to better control globalisation," he said, adding that the democratic structures are there to make the citizens' voices heard, they "just need to be filled with life".

Malmstroem told MEPs the trade policy has a legitimacy problem, and it can only benefit European citizens if they have trust in it.

She said people need to feel they can influence the content of the trade deals, and the EU needs to tackle the fears associated with free trade deals.

Malmstroem once again praised Ceta, the EU's trade agreement with Canada, for its labour and enviromental protection standards, and for its improvements in the investor protection system.

"We want to have an effective, transparent, responsible, value based trade policy," she added, pointing out that 31 million jobs in Europe depend on exports, therefore the EU cannot afford to be protectionist.

She argued that the reason for job losses - one of the key concerns of opponents of free trade - are not trade deals, but rather technology and automatisation.

She added that national governments also have responsibility to help citizens adapting to globalisation.

But Malmstroem warned against member states reclaiming some trade purviews from the union level, as the policy has been an exclusively EU power in the last 40 years.

"It would be devastating for the EU if the national governments would retake some trade competencies, that would be bad for wealth and the quality of trade agreements," she said.

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