US trade chief ‘open’ to resurrecting TTIP

TTIP has been a hugely controversial issue, on both sides of the Atlantic, and activists will hope talk of it being back from the grave are premature. [Shutterstock]

The United States is “open” to resuming stalled talks with the EU on its planned mega trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a senior US official confirmed yesterday (30 May).

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC that “it makes sense to continue TTIP negotiations and to work towards a solution that increases overall trade while reducing our trade deficit”.

“It’s no mistake that, while we withdrew from TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Pacific Rim economies), we did not withdraw from TTIP,” Ross revealed.

It marks a shift in tack for President Donald Trump’s administration and the remarks come as the United States and Germany clash on policies including diplomacy and trade.

Launched in 2013, TTIP negotiations, which would set up a huge free trade area on both sides of the Atlantic, were put on ice when Trump was elected on a campaign ticket that went heavy on protectionist talk and policies.

The negotiations have also had to contend with serious civil society opposition and fallout from the EU-Canada CETA deal’s ratification process, which saw the Belgian region of Wallonia threaten to axe the entire agreement before a compromise was made.

One of Trump’s earliest protectionist moves was to back US withdrawal from another free trade agreement, TPP, which had been signed by the United States with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and Australia.

Brussels and Washington had sought to get the TTIP deal through Congress by the time Obama left office but fell short.

Earlier this month, Asia-Pacific trade ministers agreed to try to revive TPP, even though the United States reaffirmed its decision to pull out.

Europe moves to pick up free trade scraps as Trump ditches TPP

President Donald Trump signed an executive order formally withdrawing the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal yesterday (23 January) as Europe sniffed a chance to pick up the free trade the US is turning its back on.

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership covered 40% of the global economy before Trump abandoned it when he took office in January to meet a campaign promise.

Japan, Australia and New Zealand are leading efforts by the so-called TPP 11 to resuscitate the agreement, convinced it will lock in future free trade and strengthen labour rights and environmental protections.

The EU has pushed on with trade talks and is currently courting the South American Mercosur bloc, revisiting an existing deal with Mexico and mulling the idea of reopening talks with India.

EU trade policy was granted a great deal of clarity on 16 May, when the European Court of Justice ruled that its Singapore trade deal could not be concluded by the European Commission alone.

Although this was, on the face of things, a defeat for the EU executive, it actually provided it with a roadmap for future trade deals. The case will inevitably prove to be vital in the upcoming Brexit negotiations and if the TTIP talks do indeed resume.

Singapore trade deal cannot be concluded by EU alone, ECJ rules

The European Union will have to secure approval from national parliaments in order to finalise a free trade deal with Singapore. The bloc’s top court ruled that the agreement in “its current form” cannot be handled by the Commission acting alone.