20th Mar 2018

Ministers publish mandate for US trade talks

  • The trade deal is to be worth an extra €100 billion to the EU economy (Photo: Niklas-B)

EU governments have published the negotiation mandate given to the European Commission to open talks on a free trade deal with the US in a bid to assuage criticism that the deal is being made behind closed doors.

On Thursday (9 October), governments made public a document agreed in June 2013 which sets out their demands from talks aimed at agreeing a Transatlantic trade and investment treaty (TTIP) with the US.

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The EU executive, which is negotiating on behalf of the bloc's 28 countries, has long been anxious to avoid charges of secrecy, having watched MEPs shoot down the anti-counterfeit treaty Acta in 2012 on similar grounds.

Talks on the TTIP started in July 2013, with the seventh round of negotiations held in Washington DC last week. Negotiators remain bullish that the final text can be agreed before the end of 2015.

But there has been a well-organised public backlash against TTIP, with environmental and civil society groups concerned that TTIP could lead to lower food safety and environmental standards.

The mandate states that any agreement must "not encourage trade or foreign direct investment by lowering domestic environmental, labour or occupational health and safety legislation and standards, or by relaxing core labour standards".

Meanwhile, it also says that the inclusion of controversial clauses allowing companies to file legal action against governments, known as Investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) "will depend on whether a satisfactory solution" can be found to ensure that they do not prevent governments from regulating in the public interest.

The agreement "should be without prejudice to the right of the EU and the member states to adopt and enforce … measures necessary to pursue legitimate public policy objectives such as social, environmental, security, stability of the financial system, public health and safety in a non-discriminatory way".

On Saturday (11 October), trade unions and activists will gather across Europe for a "day of action" against TTIIP and a parallel EU trade deal with Canada, with the potential inclusion of ISDS one of main grievances of activists.

Karel de Gucht, who is set to be replaced by Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom as EU trade commissioner next month, commented that publishing the mandates "further underlines our commitment to transparency".

The move was "something I've been encouraging them to do for a long time," he added.

It has also won cross-party support among MEPs in the European Parliament, where backing for TTIP is required before it can be ratified.

The European Commission estimates that TTIP could, in time, be worth an extra €100 billion to the EU economy, and all EU governments are publicly supportive of continuing the talks.

However, both the French and German governments have indicated that they will not support any deal which includes ISDS.

The French government also ensured that the culture and audiovisual sector was excluded from TTIP.

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EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".

US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Washington would still like to block a planned gas pipeline between Russia and Germany but is not yet considering hitting companies involved in the project.

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