US Ambassador: Beyond growth, TTIP must happen for geostrategic reasons

Anthony Gardner [EBS/Flickr]

The United States and Europe must work constructively to finalise the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership not only to boost jobs and growth. “There are critical geostrategic reasons to get this deal done, and every day I am reminded of the global context of why we are negotiating TTIP,” said US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV. 

Anthony L. Gardner was sworn in as the US Ambassador to the European Union on February 18, 2014. Prior to assuming his current position, for six years, Ambassador Gardner was Managing Director at Palamon Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in London. The American diplomat has dedicated more than twenty years of his career to US-European affairs, as a government official, lawyer and investor.  He served as Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council in 1994-95. During that period, he worked closely with the US Mission to the European Union to launch the New Transatlantic Agenda.

He spoke to EURACTIV editor-in-chief Daniela Vincenti

The sixth round starts today [14 July]. One year after the start of negotiations, where do you think we are making steady progress, despite the opposition building up?

First of all, we should put the opposition into perspective. Every European government has expressed its support for these negotiations, so the opposition that you are referring to is opposition amongst some people in some countries, some NGOs and some members of civil societies, but not all member states.

I have just come back from Italy. Not only has the government been supportive, but the business community has also, as it is in every country I have visited in Europe. To the extent that the public is focused on it, I think the view is positive. There is an overwhelmingly positive view of what we are trying to achieve.

Yes, it has been a year, and it’s not accurate to say we haven’t made any progress. We have consolidated texts in five areas. We may extend that number after this round. I am still hopeful that this will be an important and successful round.

The work we have done so far has been important in that it is how both sides understand each other’s positions. There are some difficult issues, but the work to date has helped us define better what those issues are. As our trade representative said, we are happy with the success so far.

Beyond tariffs, on regulatory convergence, do you think we are advancing faster than expected?

Both sides have tabled offers on tariffs and services. Those are two important areas. We are having detailed discussions on regulatory convergence in a number of sectors. We are making important progress on the cross-cutting principles related to future regulation. In other words: issues of transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation.  

We are also following with great interest what the EU is doing internally. There was a communication on the REFIT programme, which follows up on the important and valuable work that the EU is doing in terms of further enhancing its transparency ability, by commenting on regulation at an early stage.

In terms of transparency, one of the major criticisms of TTIP is the fact that the negotiating mandate has not been published, despite calls from members of parliament and civil society for access. Do you think it should be released?

I hear these criticisms fairly often, usually from people who have not visited the US Trade Representative (TR) website and the EU commission’s website.

Almost everything you want to know about what we are doing is on the website. If it is not on the website, it has actually been leaked.

They can find high level working group reports and our objectives in the negotiations. Not only the websites, but after rounds, there have been numerous opportunities for stakeholders to express their views. There will be another one on Wednesday.

We also have regular sessions at the USTR [US Trade Representative], as does the Commission, through our own trade advisory groups.

I will repeat from both sides: these have been the most open and transparent trade negotiations ever. I think this particular criticism is not a valid one. Almost anything you want to know is out there for the public to see.

There are some documents that cannot be released, and as someone who has been negotiating deals for a living for 15 years, I think that anyone who has been in a similar situation will understand that it does not help to be completely transparent on all the offers that are tabled.

You do need to balance, on the one hand, what you described: the clear need for transparency and public participation, and on the other, to be able to give the negotiators in the deal some space to table offers without having it made public.

So it is more a perceived, than a real lack of transparency. How do you tackle this growing opposition?

The perception is there among some people. For those who have that perception, I invite them to make their voice heard and participate in the sessions that we have scheduled. By all means, we want to hear from them. The best way to act on those criticisms is to speak out.

Some remember the anti-ACTA movement, which built up on social media and killed the agreement. What have we learned from that and how do we make sure that this does not happen to TTIP?

First of all, these negotiations have nothing to do with ACTA both in substance or otherwise. But lessons were learnt.

It is hard to combat perceptions and arguments based on mischaracterisations and value-based assessments with facts alone. It is true that in our public outreach perhaps we have been overly focused on statistics and not enough on stories that people can understand. In other words, why we are negotiating this deal, and what it means for average people (not just businesses).

In that sense I would agree that we have a better job to do.

At the mission, we have been very involved as well in how to improve our public outreach, and I think we are improving. We will do more in terms of reaching out to civil society members and small-to-medium-sized businesses, and framing the debate in language that people can understand, to avoid any repeat of ACTA.

So you think framing the debate in Europe and the US has to be different?

I think we can change the language we are using. There are many things we can do. We can address a wider group of people. I have certainly started my own outreach. I met with environmental leaders, labour leaders, environmental groups, human rights groups, and we are going to be doing more of that.

We need wider outreach, and to work with third parties who share our views, because sometimes, I will admit, governments are not the best messengers for the message.

Let’s take the hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken examples, because everybody relates to those issues. How do we move beyond those blocking issues, so that the negotiations are not derailed? How do we reassure citizens on both sides of the Atlantic that their regulatory systems will not be watered down?

The debate has been mischaracterised by the enemies of this agreement. They are accusing us of trying to force European consumers to eat products that they do not want. That is false.

There is a much bigger issue here. We want Europe to follow its own scientific advice, whether on biotechnology or clones. There are no health issues involved in hormone treated beef. There is, of course, a high quality beef quota that was agreed to settle our dispute.

By the way, we are only using 50% of that quota because we have supply issues and also that quota is open to other countries. There are three or four of them, if I am not mistaken. So we are not even close to filling our high quality beef quota.

Enemies of this agreement are latching on to this issue (biotechnology and chlorinated chicken) as ways to miscast what this is about. We should be talking about why Europe ignores the scientific advice from its own agencies.

An example of why this is so important is that Europeans often point the finger at our sceptics of climate change, and we have a number, and they say, “Why don’t you believe in science? Science is clear on this.” You can flip this argument on its head. We can point to our European friends who have problems with biotechnology and hormone treated beef: why don’t you believe your own science? Why do EU member states, 100% of the time, ignore the scientific evidence of the European Food Safety Federation and the federations of science academies who repetitively give their opinion on these issues? The bigger issue is that we need to give proper respect for scientific views of the EU’s own agencies.

Let’s take financial services.  Americans say that US regulations are better than they are in Europe and, in fact, you want it out of the TTIP negotiations. The EU wants it in TTIP. How do you reconcile these two positions?

We keep on getting asked about this and we keep on giving the same answer. Somehow, that does not seem to be sufficient as the Commission keeps on pushing for this issue when they know what the answer is.

So, I will give you the same answer that they have heard many times. We have a bilateral dialogue (in fact we had a large delegation here last week anticipating the financial markets regulatory dialogue with the EU) which we have used for some time now to address important issues about financial regulatory reform.

That dialogue, in our view, has been working and has resulted in important and greater convergence between our two sides. On top of the bilateral dialogue, we have a multilateral dialogue in the G20, which in our view has been working.

So, for those reasons we do not see what would be achieved by having a formal mechanism about a financial regulatory dialogue in a trade agreement.

We still have not heard articulated from the EU what that would achieve in addition to what is already taking place. Having said that, there is going to be a chapter on financial market access.

My final point is that there should come a time when positions on both sides should be listened to. We are not the only ones that have made clear that there are certain topics we feel should not be appropriately discussed. The EU has its own.

Do you think we continue to say that we want cultural issues to be addressed in TTIP? We have not. It would be inappropriate to do so, because it has been made very clear that audiovisual is not part of the negotiating mandate. I would suggest that it would be more useful for the Commission to stop repeating this issue when they have already received an answer.

So, basically, Europe is paying the price for its cultural exception with financial services exclusion?

No, I did not say that. I am saying each side has its sensitivities. We have our own. We have been clear regarding our view on financial services. Our energies would be better spent making progress in the areas which are on the table.

Commissioner Karel De Gucht, in charge of Trade, said this agreement will be a living document. We are tied by a timeline. We want to have a deal up and running by 2017 (the end of President Obama’s second term). Do you have the feeling that no matter what we have, it is important to have an agreement by 2017 and build on that maybe minimal accord, or is it better to have a strong final agreement?

The objective of both sides is to have an agreement by the end of 2015. That is the official position of both the EU and the US, and we still think it is achievable. In terms of a living agreement, if you mean that we need to have an early harvest which we can build on, as Vice Minister Carlo Calenda of Italy said: our view remains the one already expressed.

A lot of these issues interrelate with one another and it is very difficult to see how we could achieve an early harvest, because it would undercut our common goal to achieve an ambitious agreement. We do not want to see an early harvest agreement. We want to see a whole package agreed on, even if it takes longer.

There has been a change of guard this year in the EU. There will need to be a more coherent and disciplined grand coalition in the Parliament if we want to progress on some dossiers. I am sure you have seen the list of members in the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament—which includes Marine Le Pen, and the ‘Grillini’. This is probably going to galvanise opposition against TTIP. There will be midterm elections in the US. How do you think this will all play in the negotiations?

We followed the results of these past elections very closely and take note that the two main parties have over 55% of votes, and with ALDE, over 65% of the votes.

Centrist parties are in favour of this agreement and we look forward to working with all three of them and any parties with whom we can do business in the European Parliament. We still think that there is well over 50% of MEPs that look in favour on TTIP.

So yes, we take note of chairmanships of the key committees and their members. I look forward to working with all of them, including INTA (International Trade) and LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs), ECON and the other key committees.

One of my priorities is spending a lot of time in the EU Parliament, to explain what we are trying to achieve in TTIP and data privacy. Work on the deal continues. I do not see a link with changing US politics.

The EU made an effort to open an EU Parliament office in Washington. A Congressional representation in Brussels would be welcome.

I am a big believer in trying to find ways to deepen existing dialogue between the EU Parliament and our Congress. The Senate is not yet part of this dialogue, but may be in the future.

I think there are ways to do that, and we should consider them. There could be exchanges of staff members, to make even more meaningful the dialogue we have by having members of committees meet their counterparts in other committees, so they can focus on specific issues. This has been the challenge on both sides: how to make this dialogue that happens twice a year even more focused and productive for the participants.

The idea of having a liaison office of Congress here is frankly something that I will leave with Congress. It is not the most important issue. I think what is important is how to inject more relevance into the existing dialogue for both sides.

The EU is in progress of reviewing the Safe Harbour agreement, which is being carefully discussed with the US. Where do discussions stand?

We are making good progress. We continue to meet on the 13 recommendations that were made last November. We have made significant progress on 11 of those 13 so-called commercially focused recommendations, and we are close to an agreement on those 11.

With regards to the last two, which relate to national security exemptions, we continue to negotiate, but I am hopeful that we can continue to make progress and that we will be in a position in the fall to announce agreement on the updating of Safe Harbour.

On the DPPA (Data Privacy and Protection Act), which is the transfer of information between law enforcement authorities, I consider this to be a major achievement for us, the US and the EU. The Commission and I were very involved in pushing for the extension of the rights enjoyed by US citizens under the Privacy Act to EU citizens, giving them the right to sue to protect their data privacy rights under the DPPA.

As a result of this decision, Attorney General Holder announced in Athens on 25 June that the administration is committed to seeking legislation that will ensure that with regard to personal information transferred within the scope of the proposed DPPA regarding police and judicial cooperation. EU citizens have the same right to seek judicial redress for intentional unlawful disclosures of protected information, and for refusal to grant access or to rectify any errors in that information.

This was a big achievement and was recognised as such on the EU side. We now need to table a text before Congress, which we will be doing shortly. We need to get it passed, which is another issue, but we will be working with the Hill and also with others from the business community to help make sure that this gets concluded.

We understand how important this has been for the EU. So this is a good news story. It has taken a while, but we are close. I would like to see this completed shortly.

Are you confident that Safe Harbour will be upgraded by this autumn? What is blocking it now, and why are the last two so hard to strike a deal on?

Because they relate to the most complicated issues. I think we are almost there. We have the summer ahead of us, so there will be a gap, but there are a few meetings between now and the summer break and we are close. This is a good news story.

Regarding energy security and the Ukrainian crisis – do you think there will be a new chapter in TTIP linked to energy collaboration? Do you think the US will relax the rules in order to export more natural gas to Europe?

When we saw the leaked text of the EU and its desire to have a separate chapter on energy, we had not decided how we were going to respond to the EU’s interest in having energy included.

We have a system in place with the Department of Energy that considers requests that are made, and we have seven conditionally approved exports of LNG (Liquefied natural gas) covering a volume of gas that equals half of the imports of the EU from Russia today, so it is a very large volume.

Gas is sold on an international market, and it tends to go like other commodities to the place where the price is highest. To think that increased volumes of LNG from the US will solve Europe’s energy issues is misguided, because those who have gotten conditional approvals for export (the first by the end of next year) will be free to sell where they wish.

Prices in Asia are almost double those in Europe. I am not saying this is not an important issue, because it is, both symbolically, as it can increase the EU’s negotiating leverage with Russia (showing there is a second alternative for energy and more supply), and secondly, because the more volume on the world market means it should have a downward effect on gas prices. By having a free trade agreement with the US, it would render quasi-automatic any request to export LNG from the US. That is one of the beneficial aspects of this agreement.

So if we need to do it for one reason, it is definitely this one, right?

I think there are many reasons for doing this. Energy is one, but the list is long. In my view, it is critical, not just in terms of all the arguments that you know well: stimulating growth, jobs and regulation.

There are critical geostrategic reasons to get this deal done. Every day since my arrival, I am reminded of the global context of why we are negotiating TTIP.

Just look at what is happening in the Middle East, or Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. We need this deal to help solidify further the transatlantic alliance, to provide an economic equivalent to NATO, and to set the rules of world trade before others do it for us. There are many reasons why this agreement is not only important, it is vital.

Concerning foreign policy, there is a Summit this week, when the EU leaders are going to decide on the next President of the Council. The US has called for a growing role of Europe on the world stage. In the last five years, we built the architecture. We have an External Action Service. Do you think we are growing up to the role the US would like to see us have? Or are we still a bit timid? Foreign policy is an area where member states want to retain power. What would it take to bring that power to a supranational level?

It is an issue that has interested me for a long time, and I have been observing the EU now for about 23 years. The issue that you just mentioned is one that I addressed in a Foreign Affairs article with Stuart Eizenstat, one of my predecessors.

I think the judgment we articulated is one I would still subscribe to, that the Lisbon Treaty has been important in giving the EU a greater visibility and greater coherence on the world stage. It is still a work in progress.

But if we look at what has been achieved in terms of creation of the External Action Service, and again, the ability of the EU to have a single voice and often a single name, we are impressed. Just look at the high percent of what Cathy Ashton has achieved in a number of regions, not only in Kosovo, but in the Middle East, North Africa and Iran. She has established herself as a major player. The EU has made a significant contribution to all those areas and others. We view positively these new institutions and the EU’s evolving role as international actor.

On the Ukraine: so far so good. We have maintained a high degree of collaboration, and we are watching with great interest what will be the next steps on sections. On 16 July, there will be a meeting of the European Council. We will be watching with great interest what decisions will come out of that. We are hopeful that the last meetings at COREPER level are not going to be the end of the story. Eleven names of separatists were decided at the end of those meetings, and added to the list of sanctioned individuals without extending the legal basis for further sanctions. We have been told that that is not the end of the story and depending on events and facts on the ground, there may be future announcements. Hence, we are watching closely what will come out of that dinner on the 16th

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