Chief EU negotiator defends US trade pact in Berlin

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In a visit to Berlin this week, the EU's chief negotiator for the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) emphasised the benefits Germany can expect from the agreement and tried to reassure lawmakers that EU standards would not be lowered, EurActiv Germany reports.

"Already today, Germany is the United States' most important trade partner within the EU", EU chief TTIP negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said in Berlin during a visit on Monday and Tuesday (10-11 February).

Ahead of the fourth round of TTIP negotiations scheduled in March, Garcia Bercero and Rupert Schlegelmilch, head of the directorate-general for trade in the European Commission, made a visit to Germany's capital on Monday and Tuesday.

There, the two met with representatives from the German government, civil society and the regions as well as with MPs to present the state of ongoing trade talks.

Contrary to what critics are saying, strict EU consumer protection standards - such as the ban on hormone treated meat - will not be watered down, Garcia Bercero told reporters on Tuesday. He added that public services, like water supply, would not be touched by the agreement.

Trade between Germany and the US is one of the most important bilateral trade relationships contained within TTIP. At the end of 2012, bilateral trade between the two partners amounted to $157.2 billion.

As a result, even seemingly small unburdening in the exchange of goods and break-down of regulatory barriers can lead to a growth spurt, the top negotiator said.

Though tariffs between the EU and the US remain relatively low, Garcia Bercero indicated that due to the enormous volume of transatlantic trade amounting to €2 billion daily, significant savings are possible.

If the US and the EU find considerable variation in opinion over the goals of their regulations, then these will remain unaffected by the agreement, Garcia Bercero said.

Regulations will not be eroded by negotiations, the chief negotiator promised. The European chemicals regulation REACH, for example, is much more strict than approval regulations for chemicals in the US. "Here, there will not be a harmonisation of regulations. Instead, one can talk about deciding on similar formats for ingredients and data, which companies must send to regulators in the US and the EU. That would already save companies a great deal."

No outcome this year

Asked about a timeframe by members of the Bundestag's delegation for economics and energy, Garcia Bercero said the negotiations were not expected to be concluded this year. One must take the time to correctly organise the agreement, he emphasised, to ensure that the final outcome meets European ambitions.

Asked about possible problems, the EU representative pointed out the EU's sensitivity in the agriculture sector. On the other hand, the US has significant sensitivity with regard to services and public procurement, Garcia Bercero said. 

But there will be no sector where the European protection level will be lowered, he assured.

Regarding the NSA espionage affair, Garcia Bercero seemed convinced that the US would provide a satisfactory answer to Europe's questions. A solution must be found before the ratification of the agreement.

A 'historical chance'

The ruling centre-right CDU/CSU party called the agreement "a historic chance to create the largest single market in the world and set worldwide standards". However, aggressive communication must be conducted, the conservative faction said.

The spokesman from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) faction also said he sees great opportunities in the agreement, while emphasising that solutions must be found in which standards are pushed upwards and do not settle on the lowest common denominator. This means the agreements terms, like in consumer protection, should by no means fall short of EU standards, the spokesman said. In addition, criticism must be taken seriously, the SPD spokesman said, while also calling for aggressive communication.

The opposition parties, however, were more critical.

For the Left Party, transparency is "in need of considerable improvement". Still, the signal that Garcia Bercero attempted to send with his visit, was well-received. The negotiations and the results must be transparent enough, that not only lobbyists can participate, the Left Party said.

In light of the NSA spying affair, the Left faction explained, it is difficult to negotiate when one is being spied on by the negotiating partner.

The Green Party's faction was quite critical and expressed concern over the negotiations. Regarding TTIP, there is no need to include regulations over investment protection, the Greens said, as both sides already have high legal standards.

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