TAFTA/TTIP In Trouble? EU Suggests Settling For Less-Ambitious 'Interim Agreement'

from the or-is-it-a-trick? dept

The extreme secrecy surrounding the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations means that it is very hard to tell what the negotiators on both sides are really thinking about the current state of play — as opposed to what they say in public. That means a new kremlinology is emerging that tries to tease out the deeper meanings of the information we have. For example, a meeting of the European Parliament’s INTA committee, which is responsible for formulating policy on international trade — and thus on TTIP — has given an extremely strong hint that, on the European Commission side at least, people are beginning to panic about the lack of progress achieved during the talks.

That’s what emerges from a blog post by Yannick Jadot, vice-chair of the INTA committee, who describes an extraordinary suggestion from Italy, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council (one of the three main EU bodies):

In one of Italy’s first appearances in the European Parliament since it assumed the Council Presidency in July, Carlo Calenda, the minister charged with overseeing TTIP for the Council, announced to the INTA committee the possibility of concluding an “interim agreement” for TTIP in light of lack of progress to date.

This is the first time such a thing has been suggested, and hugely significant, as Jadot notes:

It is both a clear indication that a thorough TTIP reevaluation is underway at the highest levels in Brussels, and that a comprehensive agreement may be too controversial and substantial to swallow in one go. The minister noted that a “profound reflection on the negotiation strategy” was now needed and that a decision to go for an interim agreement could take place after the US mid-term elections in November, with an aim to conclude it in 2015.

As well as the imminent US mid-term elections, another major factor affecting the evolution of the TTIP/TAFTA talks is the fact that there is a new group of European Commissioners taking over later this year. That’s a clear opportunity for expectations to be re-set without worrying too much about what the current commissioner responsible for TTIP, Karel De Gucht, said or promised on this score. However, as Jadot rightly notes, this lowering of expectations might also be a ploy to lull people into a false sense of security:

By concluding a scaled down TTIP, or ‘TTIP-lite’, controversial items such as the investor-state dispute settlement, non-tariff barriers and mutual recognition of standards could be kicked to touch, and be dealt with later when public interest subsides. Problematic sectors like agriculture or public procurement could be isolated out and tackled individually. In many ways an interim agreement holds true to original intentions to create a ‘living agreement’, a structure that formalises never-ending negotiations, which do not need return to any parliament for ratification.

That would certainly be a clever way of presenting a TTIP to the public that appeared relatively benign, but which merely set the stage for the really unpopular elements to be eased in piecemeal in the coming years. Adopting this approach would ensure that the European Parliament did not reject TTIP outright — a distinct possibility if it contains corporate sovereignty provisions, or undermines EU regulations on chlorine chickens and hormone beef, for example — but would be unable to stop further changes later on. However, there’s a problem with implementing this cunning plan:

Anthony Gardner, the new US Ambassador to the EU, immediately refuted Italy’s interim suggestion at the same INTA meeting, aggressively defending a comprehensive deal:

“There are many geopolitical and economic reasons to conclude an ambitious agreement, and I say ambitious because we continue to believe, like our Commission colleagues, that only a comprehensive agreement would yield the significant results our leaders want. Yes I know our friend Carlo Calenda believes an interim agreement should be considered but we continue to believe that only a comprehensive agreement will work.”

While Mr. Gardner said he would look forward to “a regular, open and honest dialogue?, he went on to attack those who have raised issues of concern, such as chlorine washed chicken. Such issues he claimed were “peripheral” and amounted to “scaremongering”.

So, we are left with contradictory messages, with the European side apparently pushing for an interim agreement, and the US side refusing even to consider it. Along the way, though, there’s some useful fodder for those TTIP kremlinologists to get working on.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “TAFTA/TTIP In Trouble? EU Suggests Settling For Less-Ambitious 'Interim Agreement'”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I hope the US negotiators stand their ground on this, and insist for the whole thing to be pushed forward, for the simple reason that that should increase the odds of it being killed off in one blow, rather than eased in gradually.

Hopefully the US’s dogged insistence on the position of ‘Everything our way, and tell the public nothing’ will end up getting the entire rotten thing killed off for good, or at least until they try to slip in the exact same crap a few years down the road yet again.

JH says:

So what does that leave ?

(First, OT: You can reject a suggestion; but you can’t refute something which is not an assertion of a fact.)

Glyn, if they exclude “investor-state dispute settlement, non-tariff barriers and mutual recognition of standards”, how much is actually left in TTIP ?

“Problematic sectors like agriculture or public procurement” don’t sound so likely as candidates for quick agreement.

So what does that leave? ACTA 2014?

Glyn Moody (profile) says:

Re: So what does that leave ?

There are a few areas where standard harmonisation/mutual recognition might be relatively easy – car production is the one that they always cite (in fact, more or less the only one they can ever come up with….) Similarly, removing remaining tariff barriers would be straightforward. But it would be a pretty meagre result.

bikey (profile) says:

Re: So what does that leave ?

It leaves ‘regulatory convergence’ (which means EU abandon its protective regulations for America’s ‘free-market’); it leaves removing EU restrictions on GMOs; it leaves attempts to ditch EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ in favor of America’s ‘you have to prove ‘scientifically’ that something is dangerous but you never have to prove it’s safe; it leaves the campaign against EU’s protected designation of origin regime (because it’s the only IP that can’t be owned by corporations).

Anonymous Coward says:

That s just what the eu needs, chlorine and hormones in our food,
ITS not we don,t
have a good supply of healthy natural food in our shops .
ALL we need now is to bring in software patents and we can have
a horde of patent trolls preying on any eu companys
tech companys that make a profit.

THE usa wont be happy until we are brought down to their level .
There seems to be NOTHING good in this treaty for
european consumers .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Software patents are already here. It just takes another way to formulate it since you need to describe physical events connected to the execution of the code. But generally the law doesn’t work in any way. Removing the software as such from the law is not gonna change much. In almost all cases where software patents has fallen it could just as well have been argued that the invention hight was too low.

textibule (profile) says:

and one more thing...

I have heard from private sources that Europe has demanded the US adopt the metric system as part of overall TTIP accord conditions, claiming (reasonably, as far as I can see) that harmonisation at many levels really requires such a step. The US, of course, gritting its teeth and pounding the desk, refuses to even consider that. Europeans take this reaction as a show of how little respect they get from the superpower

And so on and so on.

Whatever (profile) says:

Sounds way more like they understand that they need agreement as much as possible based on where they are already, and so they will go ahead with what they have and then work on the rest.

The devil is in the details on things like this, especially when you are trying to coordinate with some many players. The move for an interim agreement just shows how much they want to get something done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But it also puts some pressure on the US negotiators, unless they want to drop the deal completely. EU countries are putting pressure on the commission to a point where they will have a difficult time accepting the final result, putting TAFTA in the ACTA-situation. Since the european parliament situation haven’t changed that much regarding international deals (if anything it has gone further against it), the situation about the concept is starting to crumble. Usually these deals go through parliaments like hot butter and ACTA was a freak situation. If TAFTA falls too, that interpretation will fall and that is very problematic for USA in the longer term.

Anonymous Coward says:


Is this what they wanted perhaps? I can’t help but wonder if this is somehow like haggling. You start with a totally outrageous price(demands), even for the seller, and keep to them for a while until the opposition gets worn down a bit so they will agree to meet at a far higher price than they originally intended.
This stinks of “just say yes to a few extra things so we can get this over-with” and those who secretly stand to benefit, might actually gain a great deal more than if it just continues.

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