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8th May 2021

Europe needs TTIP to avoid loss of influence, Germany warns

  • Gabriel - EU needs a trade deal with the US to avoid losing economic influence. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Failure to agree an ambitious trade deal with the US would cost the EU influence in the global economy, Germany’s economy minister said on Monday (23 February).

Speaking at a business conference in Berlin alongside EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, Sigmar Gabriel said it was a matter of "regret" that in Germany “so much is said about ‘chlorine chickens’ and too little about the geopolitical significance” of the proposed trans-atlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).

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  • A ‘Stop TTIP’ petition has been signed by 1.5 million Europeans. (Photo: Emma Rothaar)

Following the collapse of the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organisation aimed at reaching a global accord on trade, the EU has opened talks on a series of bilateral trade agreements, including with South Korea, Canada, Japan and China.

For its part, the US is close to finalising an agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with Japan.

But an EU-US trade accord, on which the eighth round of talks took place in Brussels last month, could create the largest tariff-free trade bloc in the world, and set the basis for regulatory standards in world trade.

Gabriel signaled that his centre-left SPD party - the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition - was ready to accept the inclusion of controversial investor protection provisions in TTIP, provided that the process of mediating and arbitrating claims was reformed.

"We need investor protection regime for a new generation,” he said, adding that this would allow Europe to set the "gold standard" for future trade deals.

Gabriel called for the creation of a public trade and investment court to arbitrate on claims and allow appeals against rulings. Replacing private arbitration with a kind of public independent trade and investment court would be more transparent and enable appeals against arbitration rulings. Whoever lost the proceedings should bear the costs.

The process - known as investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) - has become one of the most hotly-disputed elements in the trade talks. Critics of the mediation process say it is secretive and allows companies to sue governments that pass social protection legislation that could harm their investments.

“I believe it is possible to find a balanced investment system. One that protects investments but provides the cast iron guarantees people need,” said Malmstrom.

2015 deadline

Trade officials have been given a 2015 deadline to secure a draft agreement on TTIP, which will then need to be ratified by the European and national parliaments, as well as the US Congress.

Gabriel had initially called for ISDS clauses to be left out of an agreement, telling a Bundestag debate last autumn that the inclusion of investor protection in an EU-Canada trade agreement was “not approvable”, but his position, as well as that of the centre-left Socialist and Democrat group of MEPs, appears to have softened.

However, TTIP faces vocal opposition from a number of NGOs, trade unions and consumer groups who say it will weaken consumer and environmental protection and social standards. In a press statement on Monday, the ‘Stop TTIP’ alliance said that its pan-EU petition calling on the European Commission to halt the talks had been signed by 1.5 million Europeans.

In Brussels, the European Parliament’s trade and development committees are among those holding a series of hearings this week on the TTIP negotiations.

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