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16th May 2021

National MPs could block US trade deal, activists say

  • Port of New York: Could national parliaments shoot down a trade deal with the US? (Photo: Niklas-B)

Opponents of an EU-US trade agreement hope that national parliaments will shoot down an accord, and their hopes will have been buoyed by a new study suggesting that a deal will likely need a seal of approval from domestic lawmakers.

A study by the Institute of Law at the University of Cologne, commissioned by the Stop TTIP campaign, and published earlier this week, finds that in all member states except for Malta, a parliamentary approval process would be necessary to sign TTIP, and the provisionally-agreed trade deal with Canada - (known as CETA) - into law.

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The study also finds that half of the EU’s 28 parliaments would be able to instigate a referendum on the trade deals if they wished, although there is little precedent for plebiscites to be held to approve free trade deals.

Both TTIP and CETA are likely to be considered as 'mixed agreements' because they deal with both EU and national powers, making them both subject to ratification by domestic parliaments.

Under EU rules, the European Commission is solely responsible for negotiating trade agreements on the EU's behalf but its mandate is dictated by national governments.

For their part, a number of senior legislators across various national parliaments have already urged the Commission to officially classify TTIP as a ‘mixed agreement’, like the accord agreed with South Korea back in 2011.

The demand was spelt out in a letter sent last summer to former EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht, signed by parliaments in 16 of the EU's 28 countries, including France, Germany and the UK.

Although EU and US officials are keen to agree a deal before the end of Barack Obama’s second term as US President in January 2017, negotiations have taken longer than expected, increasing the hopes of opponents of a trade accord that the political momentum behind it will collapse.

Speaking with reporters last week, David Martin MEP, the spokesman for the centre-left Socialist group in the European Parliament, and a supporter of TTIP, said he was “pretty convinced that this European Parliament [which will last until 2019] will not vote on TTIP. “

In the US, the procedural passage of TTIP is set to be very quick after Congress backed the Obama administration’s Trade Promotion Authority bill which allows the president to negotiate trade deals without consulting legislators. Like MEPs, members of the US Senate would have a single vote on whether to ratify or veto an agreement.

Nonetheless, TTIP's passage through the EU assembly is already looking tough. A compromise allowing the parliament’s main groups to endorse the continuation of talks and a future agreement was only secured last month when it included a demand to replace the controversial existing regime on investor protection - known as investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) - with a new EU proposal for a permanent, and public arbitration panel.

A series of national ratification processes, of potentially varying levels of complexity, will add to the obstacles facing TTIP's ratification.

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