TTIP: Everything you need to know about the trade agreement between the...

TTIP: Everything you need to know about the trade agreement between the EU and US

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With TTIP (transatlantic trade and investment partnership) there are no half measures. Europe is divided between those who consider it a commitment to growth and job creation and those who see it as an attack on democracy and social rights, which remain in the hands of multinationals. All have their arguments, but they are very few who have all the information on the agreement to liberalize trade between the United States and the European Union. The secrecy surrounding the talks on both sides of the Atlantic is one of the most criticized aspects of the negotiations, which raises all kind of suspicions about his real interest to the public.

The European Parliament (EP) vote on Thursday May 28 a report from the Commerce Commission has received more than 900 amendments. MEPs strive to reach agreements to establish a common position to be voted in plenary on the 10th of June, but they are still divided. What they decide will not be binding for now, but send a message to the US and EU. Some of the issues that polarize the Parliament are the courts of arbitration for investment protection, data protection and shielding utilities.

Everyone has an opinion on each of the aspects of TTIP. For example, a one-page document and half the Environment Committee received 340 EP amendments. He told MEP Bart Staes of the Greens spokesman on that committee, at a seminar organized by the European Parliament, which invited journalists to travel to Brussels on 12 and 13 May. These are some of the things that where reported those days:

What exactly is TTIP?

It is a framework agreement that seeks to facilitate trade and investment between the US and the EU, to create the largest free trade area in the world with over 800 million citizens/consumers. As tariffs between these two powers are already quite low (around 3%), efforts are focused on what they call “nontariff barriers”. That is, the regulations governing the production and distribution of goods and services, which are quite different and concern in areas such as the manufacture of cosmetics -Europe  prohibits the use of 1200 substances while the US only 12. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) present in over 70% of food in the US and virtually banned in the EU.

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What can it bring to the EU?

The Commission estimates that the European economy could grow in the best case, by 0.5% per year, and states that amount “equivalent to about 500 euros per household”. They anger start. Marina Albiol, MEP and spokesman for IU (left wing party) in the European Parliament, believe that we must take “shamelessness” to make this statement, “as if the benefits would be shared with European families. And even if it did, for whom would it be? The chemical industry could have more benefits, but would be for shareholders,” he says. Some experts also note that these forecasting models used by the Commission are the same people who did not see the crisis coming in the US subprime, or those who used the EU to prescribe austerity warn.

The alleged generation of job creation does not generate consensus. The best forecasts estimate that 600,000 jobs will be created in 2027, but according to Marian Harkin, spokesman for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and MEP liberal group (ALDE), “the Commission model is flawed.” This Irish notes that “there will be job losses and relocation, because for example, workers who lose their jobs in agriculture will not go directly to other sectors.” Others, like Lucas Duplá, remember that such treaties, such as the US signed with Mexico and with which expected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs ended in the destruction of more than 600,000 jobs in the United States.

Which Sectors will be affected?

The agreement will affect the whole economy and particularly the textile, chemical, pharmaceutical, medical, cosmetic, automotive, electronic services, engineering, services, agriculture, energy and intellectual property, as stated in the European Parliament.

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Who Negotiates this?

On the European side, it is the European Commission who leads the talks with the US. The Commission has received the TTIP negotiating mandate of the EU Council, comprising the heads of State and Government of the 28 Member States. Will the Council who must validate the outcome of the negotiations, but also need approval by the European Parliament. The parties want to close the deal, which was first negotiated in June 2013, before the end of the mandate of Barack Obama. As things stand, it seems complicated.

What’s the secrecy?

“The biggest mistake you could make the Barroso Commission undoubtedly was the secrecy of TTIP. Still being paid,”. He recognizes that now they have taken significant steps to improve transparency, and even says that “it is the process of negotiation of the EU in which higher level of information has been given,” although “it is still insufficient” and “must be demand more.”

In January 2015 the European Ombudsman urged the Commission to improve transparency. “It is acting with complete obscurantism, especially regarding citizenship,” criticizes Marina Albiol, who believes is intentional “because the more people know about the TTIP, the more you stand against.” The European Commission has begun to publish some documents on its website, and go to inform Parliament before and after each round of negotiations.

MEPs have at their disposal some documents (not all) can be found in a small reading room, six square meters without windows. Before entering, they have to leave out mobile, paper, pen and any personal items, and sign a document committing themselves not to disclose information about what to see. Within a pen and they give them a special role, and have an official behind while taking notes.

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Who supports the “Yes” vote and the “No”

In favor are the governments of each of the member states of the EU, which drew its mandate to the Commission, and obviously businesses, which were also represented at the Brussels seminar. In the European Parliament the support groups of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) having some internal division.

They oppose the treated groups United Left (GUE / NLG) and the Greens (The Greens / EFA), and also the extreme right. Civil society has been actively mobilized against TTIP. Marina Albiol, Left group considers the TTIP an attempt to establish “the dictatorship of the multinationals.” “The initial goal is absolutely perverse, antidemocratic” and “remove legal obstacles”, says: “Our energy regulation is an obstacle to fracking companies, our public pensions are an obstacle to the entities that manage private pensions, our public health, to private healthcare companies …“

Lobbies Say What?

Companies are delighted. Pascal Kerneis, the Forum of Business Services, argues that the TTIP facilitate the Europeans to move to America to work, or that European companies can compete in public contests there. Luisa Santos, Business Europe; the employer, believes will help SMEs to access the US market, and as many advocates said that the standards of US and EU are similar, especially when compared to countries like Vietnam, which together can help establish international standards. Any red line which would not? “No,” replies Kerneis. On the contrary, “ambitious and achievable goals,” Santos added.

Arnaud Petit, COPA-COGECA, the association of European farmers and winers, believes it will be good to facilitate the entry of European products in the US, but says he would not be willing, for example, to allow growth promoters (hormones) in bovine. The European Consumers Association (BEUC), also believed to be positive because it will have a wider and cheaper product offer. Has some buts, however, as data protection in the digital environment and complains that their requests to improve consumer alert systems have not been heard.

Those who oppose TTIP claim that the meetings that the European Commission had to prepare for negotiations, 92% was with the private sector, and only 4% with advocacy public groups of interest and 4% with other actors such as academic experts and public administrations. The liberal MEP Marietje Schaake believes it is logical that companies are heard in matters of trade, as well as parents and students are invited to educational issues. The Spanish Marina Albiol argues that civil society should be equally represented, because in the end are the multinationals which are imposing their conditions.

Why is there so much controversy?

There are several thorny issues that ignite all alarms. The European Commission has endeavored to clarify “myths” about the TTIP, by publishing documents and summary sheets. Reading them seems to be nothing to worry about. The Commission ensures no loss of sovereignty of member states, as feared, with arbitration tribunals or the process of regulatory cooperation, that workers’ rights and consumer protection will not be compromised and that public services they will be insured. Dietmar Köster, spokesman of the Committee on Legal Affairs notes, however, that “the texts are not so clear, do not offer many guarantees” and “leave room for interpretation”.

Is it undemocratic for citizens?

Arbitration courts are one of the hottest points of the debate. United States has not acted, and is waiting for the EU to reach a common position. These courts (in English ISDS) are private mechanisms to settle disputes between states and investors. They are only in favor of the proposal by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström popular and European liberals. Dita Charanzová liberal MEP argues that with them European companies that invest in the US will be protected and will not suffer discrimination.

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The Social Democrats say they are not necessary when consolidated Statements of law and the US and the EU. Inmaculada Rodríguez socialist rejects as is the proposal of the Commission: “It is unacceptable that conflicts with the state is a company that decides, we want to be professional and independent judges.” Require an appeals system, and long term, there is an international system that serves for any conflict. The spokesman of the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, the Social Bernd Lange, believes however that Malmström is taking steps in the right direction, but wait to see what happens in the coming months before deciding. His compatriot, Köster, also stressed as an element that would be against big companies that would benefit from this system, because “a small company cannot assume the six million euros for an arbitration case.”

The European left-wing parties go far beyond and is resolutely opposed. They believe that these courts would inhibit not only short term but stably the ability of states to legislate for the rights of their citizens. Albiol, who described as “real blow to democracy”, pulls a repeated example: in 2013 a French company, Veolia, denounced Egypt because it decided to raise the minimum wage.

What’s left for workers?

TTIP detractors fear that by increasing competition with the US, labor rights, more established in the EU, resently. The United States has ratified only two of the eight core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the most critical MEPs see a problem here. The Spanish Rodríguez Piñero believes it will be difficult for Washington to sign them all, because it says that the powers are federal states. It also downplays the ILO Conventions: “You tell me in Romania ILO Conventions … The red line are labor rights, and we will have to see how are they guaranteed”.

Threat to our health? And the Public sector?

The European Commission ensures that only a legislative harmonization where regulation between the US and the EU is similar, as in the automotive industry apply. For the rest, such as genetically modified organisms or cosmetics, it promised that the EU would maintain its high levels regulatory and TTIP not change the treaties establishing the European legislative process. This is what he says, but then go out news as published in The Guardian on Friday 22 May ensures with documentation in hand, the EU has filed European legislation to regulate 31 pesticides that may be related to cancer and male infertility. Why? According to British newspaper, because the US pressed under the TTIP negotiations.

In addition to the thorny issue of regulation, Albiol this cooperation seems so undemocratic as arbitration tribunals, and in his opinion, endanger both public services. “For the regulatory Cooperation Council, which still do not know who is going to spend forms- regulations of the autonomous regions, municipalities and Member States, to suit the interests of the multinationals.” Hence the European left sees indirectly endanger public services (also in the ISDS), although they are in principle excluded from the negotiations in the services category.

“The TTIP cannot put into question the democratic legitimacy of states, their right to make decisions,” requires the German Social Köster. His fellow European party, Rodríguez Piñero, believes however that the debate on the possible privatization of public services has already been exceeded because the provision of public services is not a European competition. “It is still included in the amendments, but has no place.” Yes it agrees to be guaranteed by European standards.

Data protection and transgenic

65% of services online e-commerce in the European Union comes from the United States. And in all those transactions, no personal data. Jan Philipp Albrecht, Green MEP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, warns that the US is pushing to include provisions that could undermine data protection standards in the EU. This is one of those issues where rules on both sides of the ocean is completely different, and in this matter Rodríguez Piñero sees itself needs a high level of safety is ensured. In the US there is not even about regulation for businesses.

The European Commission has kept the power to authorize GMOs in the EU, but has offered Member States the ability to veto them on its territory. A US veto this freedom has not liked, but the Commission ensures that European basic legislation on GMOs will not enter the TTIP. But of course, it says that the same applies to data protection and as seen, these are implicit in the e-commerce.

Can we stop all this?

Although the European Parliament is deeply divided and in Europe have been many social movements against TTIP, the will of the majority of the Parliament is to reach an understanding with the parties. But remember Bernd Lange, responsible for the report to be voted on Thursday, the European Parliament has already rejected two foreign trade agreements and not settle for a bad deal, so everything is possible.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a very thorough article! I can see the benefits of having open trade between the US and EU, but I can certainly see how the EU may not appreciate some of the political and social norms of the US – and perhaps visa versa. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!

    • Thanks Rob!
      We try to explain things as we think is the fairest approach. In this case of the TTIP, the two economies are already at the lowest levels of tariffs in history, approaching 2%. The TTIP tries to homogenize quality standards and national laws from both places using a private jury. It is just too weird for European citizens to give their sovereignty away in this way.

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