EU, US return to major trade negotiations

De Gucht and Froman

The EU and the US today announced they will hold a second round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks in Brussels next week (11-15 November), but the Commission insisted that data protection and secrecy will not be on the agenda.

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.

Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) commenced in July this year.

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.

The agreement, the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated, could result in millions of euros of savings to companies and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is expected that every year an average European household would gain an extra €545 and our economy would be boosted by around 0.5% of GDP, once the deal was fully implemented.

Brussels and Washington have set the ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2014.

  • 11-15 Nov. 2013: Ongoing TTIP negotiations
  • 16 Dec. 2013: Third TTIP negotiations round commence
  • Jan. 2014: Stock-taking exercise with EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht and US Trade representative Michael B. Froman

Subscribe to our newsletters