Saturday

27th Aug 2016

Trade talks 'honeymoon' over, business chiefs warn EU

  • The Commission hopes to complete the TTIP negotiations in 2015 (Photo: Atlantic Council)

The 'honeymoon phase' of talks aimed at brokering a landmark EU-US trade deal are over, business leaders have warned.

Speaking at a meeting of business leaders in Athens to coincide with a meeting of EU trade ministers on Friday (28 February), Markus Behyrer, the director general of lobby group BusinessEurope, led calls for EU leaders and the business community to tighten their communications strategies to retain public support.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • NGOs have claimed that a deal mean weaker environmental protection and food safety standards. (Photo: Emma Rothaar)

"The honeymoon phase of the negotiations appears to be over," said Behyrer. "Now the phase when negotiators will need our support and encouragement…we will have to prove that this is not a race to the bottom but a race to the top."

At a press conference later Karel de Gucht commented that "the debate should be based upon the facts – not just speculation and fear-mongering."

However, he underlined that the Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU, had the "full support of all ministers and all our member states for the on-going TTIP negotiation process".

Trade officials will resume trade talks in Brussels in March and remain anxious to make swift progress with a view to reaching a final agreement by 2015.

The EU executive estimates that the deal could be worth up to €275 billion a year to the two sides, of which roughly €100 billion a year would be for the EU - equivalent to an additional 0.5 percent of EU GDP.

But after the initial heady enthusiasm when ministers agreed to begin talks last July, there are already opponents to a trade deal. A number of NGOs claim that the EU's environmental and food safety standards, including those on genetically modified products, could be weakened, while the Commission's stance on investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) has also been criticised.

The commission says that ISDS is needed to protect investors from unfair treatment at the hands of foreign governments and discrimination in favour of domestic firms.

But after criticism that the system could prevent governments from passing environmental and social protection, and enable corporations to claim potentially unlimited damages in "arbitration panels", the Commission launched a three-month public consultation on the matter.

Mindful of the need to maintain public support for the project, the Commission also appointed an advisory group comprising seven business representatives and seven members of civil society earlier this year. It is also increasing access to documents for MEPs, aware that the Parliament vetoed the anti-counterfeit treaty Acta in 2012 after complaining that the Commission had conducted the negotiations in secret.

The EU executive is also co-ordinating with national civil servants on how best to go about communicating a EU-US trade deal to their respective national media.

Meanwhile, although there is currently support among both the Democrat and Republican parties in Congress, the talks could become a hostage to fortune with upcoming mid-term Congressional elections this autumn.

Randall Stephenson, chair of US telecoms giant AT & T, told the audience that the US business community was pushing for congressional agreement on giving the White House 'trade promotion authority' to negotiate and agree trade deals with other countries.

But the plan, which was included in President Obama's last state of the union speech, has already faced resistance from Senate Democrats.

Stephenson also suggested that securing public support in the US would be far from straightforward.

"The average American wouldn't have the slightest idea about TTIP…if you asked 1,000 people at random whether they knew about TTIP about 990 would say no," he noted.

For his part, Finland's Europe minister Alexander Stubb warned that "selling" the talks would be "a really tough case".

"We are grappling with people who are anti-free trade, anti-American, and anti-globalisation," he said.

Gulen faithful at work in EU capital

Persecuted in Turkey as the alleged authors of the July putsch, the followers of Islamic teacher Fethullah Gulen stay active as ever in the EU capital.

Italy earthquake is test for Renzi

Italian prime minister is expected to present a quick reconstruction plan and request more budget flexibility from the EU after this week's tragic earthquake.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary plans to reinforce border fence against migrants
  2. France's highest court suspends burkini ban
  3. Greeks paid €1bn more in taxes in June
  4. Greek minister denounces EU letter on former statistics chief
  5. Turks seeking asylum in Greece may cause diplomatic row
  6. Merkel becomes digital resident of Estonia
  7. Report: VW will compensate US dealers with €1bln
  8. EU mulls making Google pay news media for content

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBrussels - home of beer, fries, chocolate and Google’s Public Policy Team - follow @GoogleBrussels
  2. HuaweiSeeds for the Future Programme to Bring Students from 50 countries to China for Much-Needed ICT Training
  3. EFASpain is not a democratic state. EFA expresses its solidarity to Arnaldo Otegi and EH Bildu
  4. UNICEFBoko Haram Violence in Lake Chad Region Leaves Children Displaced and Trapped
  5. HuaweiMaking Cities Smarter and Safer
  6. GoogleHow Google Makes Connections More Secure For Users
  7. EGBAThe EU Court of Justice Confirms the Application of Proportionality in Assessing Gambling Laws
  8. World VisionThe EU and Member States Must Not Use Overseas Aid for Promoting EU Interests
  9. Dialogue PlatformInterview: "There is a witch hunt against the Gulen Movement in Turkey"
  10. ACCAACCA Calls for ‘Future Looking’ Integrated Reporting Culture With IIRC and IAAER
  11. EURidNominate Your Favourite .eu or .ею Website for the .EU Web Awards 2016 Today!
  12. Dialogue PlatformAn Interview on Gulen Movement & Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey