Friday

19th Apr 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us