Doubts over future of TTIP trade deal between EU and US

Deal unlikely before Obama leaves office, hears Bratislava meeting of EU trade ministers

 

There are increasing doubts over the future of the EU-US trade deal, after senior EU figures said the chance of reaching agreement before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency was highly unlikely.

France and Austria raised objections to the deal at a meeting of EU trade ministers in Bratislava on Friday, with Austria’s trade minister calling for the negotiations to be relaunched next year when the new US administration is in place.

Finland, which is one of the strongest supporters of the deal, said the commission should push on with the negotiations, although trade minister Kai Mykkanen opened the door to a relaunch of the talks under a new name. “There are so many unreasonable fears and maybe they are tied to the name TTIP,” he said, adding that the word had become synonymous, to many people, with the evils of globalisation.

Controversy

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said it was “increasingly unlikely” talks would conclude before the end of the current US administration.

“If we do not conclude TTIP before January 19th, then there will be a natural pause,” she said, as the prospect of relaunching the negotiations under a new mandate became a clear possibility.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was launched almost three and a half years ago but has been overshadowed by controversy over its implications for EU standards, particularly in Germany and Austria which have seen large-scale protests. Demonstrators, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, protested outside Friday’s meeting in the Slovak capital.

The 15th round of talks on the TTIP, scheduled for early October, is expected to continue as planned, however, with trade likely to top the agenda at the EU summit on October 20th and 21st in Brussels.

Ministers are also expected to meet for a special trade council in Brussels on October 18th to finalise agreement on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. Although agreed two years ago, it still has to be ratified by member states.

Upcoming elections

Commissioner Malmstrom said on Friday there was “unanimous agreement” about moving forward with CETA which was discussed on Friday morning by ministers. In a bid to assuage outstanding concerns from countries, including Austria and Belgium, both sides agreed to sign a declaration designed to assuage public concerns about the ambitious trade agreement.

CETA must be ratified by up to 38 national and federal parliaments, but is expected to be provisionally applied before the ratification process is completed. The German parliament endorsed the agreement on Thursday, after Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor and leader of the centre-left SPD group, secured the backing of his party for the deal earlier in the week. Mr Gabriel has voiced his opposition to TTIP which he said had “de facto failed” earlier this month. German chancellor Angela Merkel ostensibly backs the deal, though has provided few public utterances on the issue which has sparked a widespread protest movement in Germany.

Both Germany and France face general elections next year, while the two US presidential candidates have voiced opposition to the transatlantic trade deal.