The EU Trade Commissioner has prioritised more transparency and a greater focus on sustainability and development, citing the new Vietnam deal as a potential model for TTIP. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Cecilia Malmström was at pains to stress that her visit to Germany was not a TTIP PR tour. Despite presenting the new EU trade strategy in Berlin, the Commissioner stressed that “it is not the EU’s task to win support for the planned free trade agreement with the USA, but the member states'”.
It is not the first time that Malmström has been confronted by the German public’s general opposition to TTIP, saying that Germany “is a country that is highly dependent on exports and is so intertwined with the US economy”. She added that the EU “must stay on the cutting edge of growth”, citing the recently negotiated free trade agreement with Vietnam.
Malmström was, however, backed up by her interlocutor, European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who said that, “We must access the global markets.”
Lambsdorff made the argument that free trade creates prosperity, and that the EU must therefore pursue objectives related to services, access to raw materials, internet trade and less bureaucratic customs procedures.
The anti-TTIP Three
Germany is one of the few 28 member states where there is an anti-TTIP majority. At the beginning of October, some 200,000 people gathered in Berlin to demonstrate against the deal. The only other member states similarly prejudiced against the agreement are Austria and Luxembourg.
Malmström is confident that the new trade strategy, finalised by the European Commission in October, will address these doubts. She emphasised that the new approach will prioritise transparency.
On Tuesday (1 December), the Commission announced that all MEPs will now have access to all categories of confidential documents, instead of just a limited number. National parliaments will soon be granted the same privilege. Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade and TTIP-rapporteur, spoke of a “big win” for democracy.
Social aspects remain problematic
In response to critics who fear that the deal could reduce social standards in Europe, the executive promised to renew its efforts to protect them, under a part of the new strategy entitled Trade for All: Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy.
The European Commission has also finally taken the controversial private arbitration tribunals (ISDS) off the table. Malmström referenced the new EU-Vietnam deal as a potential model for an ISDS-less TTIP.
It should be pointed out that the USA is the EU’s largest trading partner, with trading volume hitting €517 billion in 2014, whereas trade between the bloc and Vietnam was just €28 billion.
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The Asian country has committed itself to the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in order to ensure fundamental workers’ rights are respected. It remains to be seen whether the USA will agree to ratify the conventions of the ILO as part of the TTIP deal. It seems unlikely.