The week-long round of negotiations replaces talks originally scheduled for October but postponed following the shutdown of the US government.
Instead of data issues, negotiators from both sides of the Atlantic are expected to discuss services, investment, energy and raw materials, and regulatory issues. The negotiations' session on public procurement had taken place before the shutdown.
Reding has warned US off data protection issues
Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding recently (29 October) issued a stark warning that data protection should be kept off the agenda of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But EurActiv understands that US pressure is mounting to keep the debate open on data issues.
“Data protection is a fundamental right. It is different in nature to the tariff of a good or to the schedule of a service. That’s why a discussion on standards of data protection should be kept separate from the give and take of a trade negotiation,” the justice commissioner explained recently (17 September).
Various clauses within the proposed regulation would impact on the larger US companies offering so-called “over-the-top” data services, such as Google and Amazon, and more significantly the burgeoning cloud computing sector.
US-based cloud service providers – including Google, Amazon and Microsoft – currently account for around 85% of global markets.
US tech company representatives within the President’s Export Council (PEC) – an influential industry group which advises the US government – expressed disquiet with the TTIP data protection veto at a White House meeting held in September attended by US Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Froman has never publicly said that data protection should be off the agenda, whilst a senior US government official told EurActiv on condition of anonymity that the issue of trade flows would need to be dealt with in the talks.
German secrecy proposal dismissed by Commission
An EU official close to the talks said that issues around data protection surrounding personal data belonging to Europeans would not be on the table for discussion. However, he did acknowledge that “data transfers between undertakings” was an issue that would need to be addressed.
Data protection issues between the EU and US were further strained by a decision of the European Parliament last month (23 October) for US access to a global financial database in Belgium, named Swift, to be suspended due to concerns about US snooping.
EU lawmakers voted to freeze Washington's ability to track international payments because of suspicions that it has abused an agreement giving it limited access to the Swift database.
The parliament's call follows another vote by EU lawmakers for a tougher data privacy regime including fines for companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo! that violate rules limiting how data is shared with non-EU countries.
Meanwhile a report in the Financial Times (3 November) suggested Berlin will press the European Commission to incorporate data safeguards in the TTIP negotiations as a reaction to German anger generated by claims that American intelligence eavesdropped on a wide range of targets, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The proposed safeguards in the trade pact would not be catch-all privacy rules but specific regulations to protect companies worried about industrial espionage,” the newspaper said.
The talks in Brussels will be followed by a third round of negotiations to be held in Washington DC the week of the 16th December.
“The NSA scandal is not relevant to the talks,” the official said, dismissing the report out of hand.