Negotiators aim to sign TTIP this year

Bercero and Mullaney, the EU and US chief negotiators on TTIP. [European Union]

Negotiators on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) claimed on Friday (26 February) that they were making progress towards reaching an accord by the end of the year as they completed the latest round of talks.

Under negotiation since July 2013, TTIP would create the world’s biggest free trade zone of one billion consumers, removing tariffs and harmonising regulation between the European Union and the United States.

“We are ready to seek to conclude negotiations with the United States by the end of 2016, provided that the substance is right,” the EU’s top negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told a news briefing after the 12th round of negotiations in Brussels.

“We must ensure we pick up the pace … to get this agreement right,” he said.

Negotiators for the first time discussed a divisive proposal to create an investment protection system (ISDS) that would allow companies to sue governments if they believe their interests have been harmed.

ISDS very important

“It is very important to give investors the assurance that their investments will be protected against appropriation, against discrimination,” said Dan Mullaney, the chief US negotiator.

But this idea has drawn fierce criticism in Europe, especially in powerful Germany.

The European Commission, which handles trade talks for the EU’s 28 member states, is offering the US an alternative proposal that would involve setting up a special court to handle such disputes in what Brussels says would be a more transparent way.

Mullaney said the US teams would take time to appraise the idea but noted that both sides hope TTIP will become a model for trade practices around the world.

Opponents say TTIP is undemocratic and would lead to reckless deregulation at the expense of ordinary citizens once the deal is done.

On Thursday anti-TTIP activists stole the show at a Brussels cocktail party organised by the Transatlantic Business Council.

The two sides aim to conclude the treaty this year, before the end of US President Barack Obama’s administration.

Mullaney said two more rounds of negotiations were now planned in order to reach an “advanced stage” in the talks by July, with only the toughest issues, such as farming and public procurement, still on the table.

President Obama travels to Germany in April to discuss the deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A raft of thorny issues have dogged the talks, in particular European fears about accepting genetically modified crops from America and concerns about limits on personal data-sharing by global Internet firms.

“If the European Commission does not sufficiently protect our citizens, we will plead that our group vote against the final deal,” said Eric Andrieu, a senior MEP from the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group.

Green light for Dutch beef imports

The Netherlands today (Friday 16 February) won US approval to renew exports of beef and veal to the United States, ending a ban imposed almost two decades ago because of mad cow disease.

The green light was given after a rigorous review by US authorities of the Dutch monitoring system carried out in 2014 and 2015, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs said.

“The Netherlands, Ireland and Lithuania are the only countries in the EU allowed to export beef and veal to the United States,” the ministry added in a statement.

The easing of the standoff over beef imports imposed in 1998 amid the mad cow disease crisis comes as the US and EU are trying to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a huge free trade deal.

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