Europeans may be the loudest critics, but Americans have their concerns too over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), experts said yesterday (27 March) during a conference in Brussels.
Speaker, after speaker, the message was the same. We’re not getting the point across. We’ve been written off. So went the opening session of the 2014 Transatlantic Confence, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (AMCHAM EU) at The Hotel, which President Obama called his home the night before.
The subject in question was the controversial trade agreement under negotiation by the European Commission, and the US government. First thrust into international controversy by Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who called the free trade agreement “a full-frontal assault on democracy” in an opinion editorial last November, the proposal has only grown more unpopular over time, generating countless op-eds and conspiracy theories, about what the true political intention of the agreement actually is.
Earlier this month (4 March), Germany’s Green Party leaked a copy of a heretofore secret EU position paper on TTIP, highlighting, most significantly, the fact that during the Commission’s consultation period on the agreement, it had excluded the European Parliament in negotiations with the US, as well as members of the European Council. “93% of ‘stakeholder’ meetings were with industry or lobbyists”, instead.
Thus, the defensive tone set at the AMCHAM event by its opening speaker, the EU trade commissioner’s head of cabinet, Marc Vanheukelen, who insisted that the Commission had a “democratic mandate” to negotiate and pass TTIP. Though warmly received, the significance of his statement was not lost on the audience. It was a reflection of the kinds of criticisms being made of TTIP. Not just it’s negotiation, but the fact that many of its European critics believe it is meant to subordinate national laws to corporate profitability.
Michael Punke, US Ambassador to the WTO, answered such criticisms head-on. TTIP proponents should dispense with technocratic arguments for the agreement, and argue that it provides a solution to the ongoing economic crisis. TTIP will provide a new economic “architecture” for the next half century, he added, one which will benefit Europe and America as a whole, not just their business elites. Contending that it has a regulatory, not ‘de-regulatory’ agenda, Punke aimed directly at those TTIP critics, who, like Green MEP Sven Giegold, believe that it would “take away democracy’s means for social and environmental management”.
Offering practical suggestions for TTIP advocacy, Punke stressed that its supporters work harder to reassure the public that the agreement takes into account their concerns, punctuating his recommendations with buzzwords like “participation”, “accountability”, and “transparency”. In answer to those Europeans opposed to the agreement, who view it as another example of the Americans imposing themselves on Europe, Punke told the gathering that it would grant Europeans the same opportunities as Americans. Clearly the ambassador had done his homework. It was a well-informed talk.
TTIP craving for communicators
Economist Joseph Quinlan (see interview, above) was less convinced that there was any convincing left to do. Though TTIP offered an ideal opportunity to advance the same kind of development and prosperity as that of the post-WWII boom, the agreement was “DOA”. Public opposition, in the United States, is just too strong. TTIP is a tough sell, he explained, because Americans “just don’t get trade”.
Though Quinlan did not elaborate as to why, the allusion to Tea Party-style, libertarian conservatism, and its highly protectionist outlook, was obvious. Especially to those familiar with the high number of US jobs outsourced to Canada and Mexico, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed in 1994.
According to the AFL-CIO, NAFTA resulted in the export of 415,000 American jobs to Mexico alone, covering industries ranging from electronic parts (150,000 jobs), to motor vehicle manufacturing (108,000). Given such losses in key industries, it is not surprising that, despite what a hard sell TTIP is in Europe, it is an equally unattractive proposal to many Americans.
Despite Quinlan’s prognosis for TTIP, his Transatlantic Economy 2014 report, which was launched at the conference, had nothing but good data about economic ties between Europe and the US. The transatlantic economy creates approximately €5 trillion in sales annually, and underwrites nearly 15 million jobs, in both the United States, and in Europe.
Equally reassuring, according to the economist’s report, is the fact that Europe and the US are one another’s main source of foreign investment. Europe has accounted for 56% of US global foreign direct investment over the last fourteen years. European investment in the United States likewise remains high, with over €8 trillion in 2012 alone.
Given figures like these, irrespective of TTIP’s difficulties in being accepted, transatlantic trade continues to deepen.
Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013.
If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment. The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world. Traded goods and services are worth €2 billion.
TTIP would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated, resulting in millions of euros of savings for companies and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is claimed that the average European household would gain an extra €545 annually, and that Europe's economy would be boosted by around 0.5% of GDP, if such a deal was fully implemented.
Brussels and Washington have set an ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2014.
- European Commission: Karel de Gucht's 18 February statement
- European parliament: Environment Committee's report on TTIP
- European Commission: Approved Negotiating mandate (14 June 2013)
- European Commission trade directorate report: Reducing Transatlantic barriers to trade and investment
- Speech by President Barroso: A new era of good feelings
- European Parliament: TTIP FAQ by Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake
- Danish newspaper Notat: Leaked EU Issues Paper Communicating on TTIP
- Full list of contributions submitted to a public consultation round by the European Commission following the HLWG
- European Commission: Initial TTIP position papers published after the first round of negotiations
- Association for Ships and Maritime Equipment, SEA Europe
- FoodDrinkEurope: ‘Europe’s Food Manufacturers welcome EU – USA trade talks.
- European Chemical Industry Council CEFIC: ‘Kick-off of EU-US Free Trade Agreement at G8 summit’
- Medica Technology Industry (AdvaMed, COCIR, Eucomed, EDMA, MITA)
- IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy): Position
- Orgalime (European Engineering Industries Association)
United States trade associations
- American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations AFL-CIO
- National Association of Manufacturers, NAM
- Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (BCTT)
- Medical Technology Industry (AdvaMed, COCIR, Eucomed, EDMA, MITA)
- American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC)
- U.S. Food and Agricultural Groups
- Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
- Financial Services Sector
- Centre for European Policy Analysis: Insider view with Ambassador João Vale de Alemida (10 September 2013)
- Centre for Economic Policy Research: Reducing Transatlantic Barriers on trade and investment, An Economic assessment (March 2013)