European Commission Announces Major Transparency Initiative For TAFTA/TTIP
from the now-it's-your-turn,-USTR dept
One of the biggest — and most justified — criticisms of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations is that they are being conducted in almost complete secrecy. Attempts to deflect this criticism with token moves such as “stakeholder meetings” have failed, not least because so-called “civil society” sessions turned out to be packed with the usual business lobbyists. Similarly, the European Commission’s release of negotiating positions meant that we had only general statements of intent, but without any meaningful detail — and, as ever, the devil really does lie in those details.
The recent appointment of a new European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, offered the hope of a new era, especially when she quickly outlined two proposals for boosting transparency, showing a welcome appreciation of the importance of this topic:
First, to extend access to TTIP texts to all Members of the European Parliament, beyond the currently limited group of Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee.
Second, to publish texts setting out the EU’s specific negotiating proposals on TTIP.
The first happened immediately, and Malmström has just started to deliver on the second:
The European Commission today published a raft of texts setting out EU proposals for legal text in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) it is negotiating with the US. This is the first time the Commission has made public such proposals in bilateral trade talks and reflects its commitment to greater transparency in the negotiations.
Here are some more details of what the newly-published texts include:
The so-called ‘textual proposals’ published today set out the EU’s specific proposals for legal text that has been tabled in the proposed TTIP. They set out actual language and binding commitments which the EU would like to see in the parts of the agreement covering regulatory and rules issues. The eight EU textual proposals cover competition, food safety and animal and plant health, customs issues, technical barriers to trade, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and government-to-government dispute settlement (GGDS, not to be confused with ISDS). Today, the Commission has also published TTIP position papers explaining the EU’s approach on engineering, vehicles, and sustainable development, bringing the total number of position papers it has made public up to 15.
To make the online documents more accessible to the non-expert, the Commission is also publishing a ‘Reader’s Guide’, explaining what each text means. It is also issuing a glossary of terms and acronyms, and a series of factsheets setting out in plain language what is at stake in each chapter of TTIP and what the EU’s aims are in each area.
There do seem to be some fairly important documents among the new releases. For example, there is the proposed text for the highly-contentious Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS) chapter (pdf), which covers various aspects of agricultural products. However, others are still missing: for the chapter dealing with copyright and patents, we only have a two-page factsheet giving very a broad outline of the proposed measures (pdf) — and including the customary assurances that TTIP is not ACTA 2.0. There are other important sections missing, as the S&D group in the European Parliament has been quick to point out in a press release:
We also want the services schedule published, as the Commission has already done for the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which would ensure the full protection of the public services.
Public services is an area of great concern to many in the EU, so its absence here will be seen as a disappointment. Other suggestions for how the negotiations could be opened up have come from the EU Ombudsman, who has just published her report on TAFTA/TTIP transparency:
The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, while welcoming the real progress by the European Commission, has made a series of recommendations on how to further increase the transparency of the on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the US. The recommendations relate to public access to consolidated negotiating texts, greater proactive disclosure of TTIP documents and increased transparency as regards meetings that Commission officials hold on TTIP with business organisations, lobby groups or NGOs.
Clearly, then, there is now considerable momentum in Europe behind the move to open up TAFTA/TTIP. This raises the obvious question: so what about the US? As we noted last year, the USTR has shown no signs of softening its hard-line, anti-transparency position for either TTIP or TPP. But now that the European Commission has accepted the argument that openness is likely to help the acceptance of TTIP, rather than harm it, and aims to release key documents routinely, how long can the US negotiators plausibly maintain their outdated position?