TTIP Negotiators Conclude Fifteenth Round, Pledge to Push Forward

13 October 2016

Negotiators for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) concluded their fifteenth round last week, touting advances and pledging to make additional progress in the coming months, even as the talks’ long-term future remains unclear.

The 3-7 October gathering in New York City come at a difficult time for the TTIP talks. These have been underway between the EU and US for over three years now, with the goal of reaching a deal that would slash tariffs and make significant advances in regulatory coherence and cooperation, as well as rule-making.

However, in practice the negotiations have proven difficult, both in substance as well as in gaining public support for the planned accord, particularly in the wake of an anti-globalisation wave that has touched both advanced and developing economies. Trade has particularly faced heavy scrutiny in this context, even as policymakers warn that prolonged slow GDP and trade growth could actually worsen some of the inequality divides that have become increasingly entrenched in recent years.

Another major issue is that of timing. The US is in the final weeks of a hotly contested presidential election, due to conclude on 8 November. Meanwhile, the EU is facing its own struggles, both in terms of selling major trade deals like TTIP and a separate deal with Canada to the public, along with the expected negotiations with the UK for the latter to exit the bloc.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, chief TTIP negotiators from both the EU and US highlighted advances made over the past week in narrowing differences at the technical level – such as in language or concept – and that they aimed to make as much progress as possible before US President Barack Obama leaves office next January.

They also attempted to address the difficulties in winning over public support, renewing their past arguments that the “economic rationale” behind the accord is a strong one that will benefit companies large and small, create increasingly effective regulations with lower costs, and help the EU and US remain at the forefront of global trade rulemaking.

“We hear both in the EU and US that some people fear the consequences of uncontrolled globalisation. An EU-US trade agreement could be one of the tools to address these issues that people rightly are worried about,” said EU chief negotiator Ignacio García Bercero.

Neither addressed in their opening remarks what would happen with the talks after January, however. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström previously suggested that the TTIP negotiations would likely need to take a break under a new US administration, in light of the various staffing and policy changes that arise during any transition from one president to another. (See Bridges Weekly, 29 September 2016)

Next texts, removing brackets

The talks in New York appeared to focus mainly on addressing technical work, such as what US chief negotiator Dan Mullaney referred to as “conceptual and language differences” in various topics.

“In this round we focused on consolidating texts and removing the differences we had in the existing proposals, or what we call in our trade jargon ‘removing brackets’,” said García Bercero.

Examples of areas that saw this type of progress included customs and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, technical barriers to trade, and regulatory compatibility in sectors such as cars, medicines, and medical devices. Talks also addressed sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which relate to animal and plant health and food safety.

“Progress in some of those sectors is very encouraging,” said the EU’s chief negotiator.

Mullaney also flagged the TTIP talks on investment, state-to-state dispute settlement, cross-border and financial services, government procurement, environment, labour, energy and raw materials, small and medium-sized enterprises, and institutional issues as having seen some advances last week.

Market access was also raised, including in agriculture and industrial goods, though additional details on those discussions were not immediately available at press time.

The US also confirmed that it had put forward new documents in areas such as rules of origin, intellectual property, textiles, cars, and trade remedies.

Coming up

At the round’s close, it was not clear when another round might be scheduled, nor what the plan is for meetings or intersessional work either before or after the US election on 8 November.

García Bercero flagged a meeting of EU trade ministers on 11 November as having the potential to give clarity on how the bloc may proceed, following up on an earlier discussion planned in the European Council among heads of state.

Meanwhile, another date likely looming in the background is the expected launch of talks between the UK and the other 27 member states for determining the former’s exit terms from the bloc. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to formally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by end March, which begins that process. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 October 2016)

ICTSD reporting.   

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