EU Sued Over Secrecy Surrounding FTA Talks with India

18 February 2011

A corporate watchdog has sued the European Commission for failing to share with transparency campaigners documents discussed with industry groups concerning the EU's ongoing free trade agreement negotiations with India.

In a case filed at the EU's General Court on Tuesday, Corporate Europe Observatory has accused the Commission of "discriminating in favour of corporate lobby groups and of violating the EU's transparency rules."

Corporate Europe Observatory said the case was a "last resort," the result of the Commission's refusal to provide full access to meeting minutes and other communication between EU governments and a wide range business groups concerning the EU-India negotiations.  The Commission censored some documents to delete comments on both sides' negotiating positions, even though those comments were shared with industry groups in India and Europe, the watchdog alleges.

"If the Commission has already shared information with the business world at large, the same information cannot suddenly become confidential when a public interest group asks for it," said Pia Eberhardt, a trade campaigner with the group. "This is a case of manifest discrimination and violates the EU's access to information rules."

Eberhardt argued that sharing information with big business but not with public interest groups leads to "a trade policy which caters for big business needs, but which has devastating effects for people's rights and the environment."

The Commission insists that the secrecy is necessary to avoid undermining the EU's foreign relations.

In the EU-India negotiations, both sides remain confident that an agreement will be concluded this year. In addition to concerns that the EU's demands on intellectual property will threaten access to affordable generic drugs in India and abroad, retail services liberalisation has been a contentious issue, with critics of the deal worried that street vendors and small shop owners in India will be unable to compete with large European supermarket chains like Carrefour and Tesco and Metro. Differences over automotive trade are also proving to be a source of irritation in the talks.

ICTSD reporting.

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