France has called for the EU to rethink its approach to trade negotiations, while pushing ahead with CETA, the free trade deal with Canada. But free trade is an increasingly thorny subject with European citizens. EURACTIV France reports.
After demanding an end to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations in September, provoking angry reactions from the European Commission and some of its counterparts, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl has urged the EU to be more assertive in its trade relations.
“It is a shame that the EU is not approaching TTIP the way it approached Ireland and Apple. It needs to be more assertive in globalisation. Even though it is not over, the Apple decision represents the new Europe that we have all been waiting for,” he said.
Fekl is likely to have an uncomfortable time in Bratislava this Friday (23 September), at an informal meeting of EU trade ministers. Many European countries have pinned great hopes on the TTIP negotiations, including the traditionally liberal northern EU member states and the eastern countries that hope to build geo-political bridges with the United States.
The French position represents a significant obstacle. But for Paris, it is simply a question of admitting failure and moving on.
“The TTIP negotiations have not progressed since 2013. We see them as a failure. Particularly on the question of access to the public markets: the Americans do not even want to open the chapter,” Fekl said.
Access to public markets is crucial to France’s industrial fabric, which has many champions in the infrastructure, public works, energy and water distribution sectors. For the Germans, the stakes are lower.
Closed access to the American public market appears to be taken as a given on the other side of the Atlantic, where the Buy American Act clearly sets the tone.
Overhauling the EU’s approach to trade
More generally, the French secretary of state has also called for an overhaul of the EU’s trade negotiation practices and to fight the bureaucratic logic under which the failure of talks is viewed as a personal failure of the negotiators or the administration.
“We have to consider the lapse of mandates. It should be normal, after a certain number of years, for mandates to “expire” if negotiations have not been finished. For example: we are in the process of reviving discussions with Mercosur based on a ten year-old mandate, but the development of these countries has changed a great deal in the intervening time,” Fekl said.
Like his EU counterparts, Fekl continues to defend the free trade agreement with Canada (CETA), which is entering the final round of negotiations, despite growing opposition.
Canada agreement in suspense
After huge demonstrations in Germany last weekend, the Belgians took to the streets on Tuesday (20 September) to voice their opposition to the TTIP and CETA deals.
While TTIP looks dead in the water, its Canadian equivalent is inching closer to success. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s charismatic prime minister, is expected at a summit in Europe in October, where CETA will be signed off. His Minister for Trade, Chrystia Freeland, is in Europe this week, and will meet the EU’s trade ministers in Bratislava on Friday.
But after seven years of negotiations, and despite the agreement of the 28 EU governments, CETA has failed to convince citizens, which are growing tired of the consequences of globalisation.
Contrary to findings published by the Canadian government and the European Commission, a recent study by Tufts University concluded that this agreement would have a negative impact on both jobs and economic growth.
“We have taken more realistic macroeconomic models than those used by our governments, the methodology is different,” Pierre Kohler, the author of the study, told EURACTIV.fr.
“For example, when jobs are destroyed in the wake of trade liberalisation, unemployment will rise for a certain period of time, because workers have sector specific knowledge and cannot be transferred on the spot. This unemployment creates a loss in labour income, expenditure, demand, etc.
“In a context of protracted austerity and low growth as is currently the case in the EU, such loss cannot be compensated by foreign demand or government demand, and hence they cause welfare or GDP losses,” the economist said.
Kohler added that the models typically used for this kind of study assume that production capacities, labour and capital are put to optimal use. This is unrealistic in his view.
The study has been widely distributed by Attac and the Greens.