In 2013, the European Commission, the US Government and powerful lobbies from large corporations began negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The aim of this new treaty is to grease the wheels of trade between the two blocks which make up 60% of world GDP and is a market of some 800 million consumers. On occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Europe in April of this year, negotiators claim that significant progress was made. These advances included progress in regulatory processes, SMEs, customs and the waiving of import duties. In this latter field, it was agreed that, sooner or later, 97% of tariffs would be liberalised without touching the remaining 3% which cover sensitive items such as agriculture.
Farm produce remains one of the more complex sticking points in these negotiations. It is not only, or even mainly, about tariffs, but is rather a matter of food safety and that of protected geographical denominations. The US is adamant about not accepting European demands in these points. The next round of talks will take place this summer when negotiators will try to hammer out as many agreements as they can.
In addition to the technical difficulties the negotiators from the US and EU have to deal with, they are faced with increasing opposition from many sectors of society. Many international organisations have branded these talks as secretive, lacking in transparency and loaded with questionable social practices, damaging environmental policies and cultural invasion.
The US administration admits that, despite increasing public debate, polls suggest that the majority of US citizens are in favour of free trade. However, the Bertelsmann Foundation highlights the fact that today only 17% of Germans favour the treaty compared to 55% in 2014.
The latest study on the image of the US in the world by the North-American Pew Research Center also identifies Germany as the European country in which most people reject the US. 45% of Germans claimed to be “unfavourable” whilst only 27% of French and Spaniards felt this way.
In a debate in London recently, Rem Korteweg, an investigator with the Centre for European Reform in Brussels, warned that adoption of the TTIP could make the EU “more vulnerable, more fragmented, and increase the risk of anti-American feelings and opposition to free trade”.
The leaking of documents by Greenpeace showing that the US was demanding considerable concessions from the EU in the fields of health and environment have further muddied the waters.
We are, as can be seen, in a very complex situation. Unless considerable headway can be made and differences ironed out in the next few months, the treaty will not be signed before Obama leaves the White House and the possibilities of returning to the negotiating table in the near future do not look very promising.
Please read our previous article on the American View.