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?

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Comments on “European Commission Announces Major Transparency Initiative For TAFTA/TTIP”

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17 Comments
Anonymoussays:

two further issues here, it so it seems to me. firstly, are the ‘Public Interest’ groups going to be given copies of the texts and secondly if they are, will any notice be taken of alterations and/or proposals they put forward? then we have the ages old argument about copyright being the main item on the list and the fact that it has yet to be released so it can be scrutinised. it seems to me that the main aim of all of these so called trade deals is to get copyright locked up for longer, to have more punitive measures for file sharing and to get rid of any laws already in place that allow for file sharing/personal copying. if there were nothing bad for the people going on in this ‘deal’, the information on this topic would have been put out already. the studios and entertainment industries dont want anyone to know what is contained in this ‘deal’ so that every time someone gets hauled up over some aspect of infringement, the charges can be trumped up at the time and suitable, massive, punishments given!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

You have to look at it from a broader perspective. Trade agreements have reductions of tariffs and import/export restrictions if they exist and standardisation of border control. Those things truely benefit private companies on account of state interference reduction and most economists agree that it is a net gain.

So historically trade agreements have been a matter between states and companies, which is why they are the only people getting consulted.

With the focus on making common legal requirements in the modern agreements, we are talking about a completely different field, but since it is still the companies and states negotiating it, we see a fundamental problem of interest representation that is exasserbated by the lack of transparency.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Trade agreements have reductions of tariffs and import/export restrictions if they exist and standardisation of border control.

Tariffs and restrictions between these countries (Europe, North America, Japan, etc) are already very low. These agreements are not free trade agreements, they’re protectionism agreements – protecting big businesses from competition. While of course exposing ordinary workers to more competition.

Anonymoussays:

Welcome news. But I wonder about this:

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.

Will the members of parliament be allowed to share and discuss the contents with the public. If not that’s a huge problem.

It’s also a big problem that this move may create a slightly one-sided impression of the deal where we don’t get to hear about the more problematic proposals from the U.S. in time. I still think that the European Parliament stance on transparency is too weak. If the members of parliament were to declare in advance their intention to – out of principle – vote no to any agreement that hasn’t been openly and democratically negotiated (at least open drafts after each meeting and preferably access to meetings) the negotiations would instantly open up. It wouldn’t be difficult – it’s just that the will seems to be lacking.

Who Caressays:

When in the US?

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?

The answer to this question is in perpetuity.
The simplest counter is that the US is not the EU and the US would never (*snort*) go against the wishes of it’s citizens.

DeadBoltsays:

Re: Re: When in the US?

“the US would never (snort) go against the wishes of it’s citizens.”

Well that is actually true… do you really think the lobbyists/politicians will bite the hand that feeds them (companies/individuals that line their pockets), when they can just make empty promises and gestures to placate or distract the sheeple?

Davidsays:

Transparency is all fine

I mean, it’s like police cams: in the end, it amounts to little more than being able to witness how you are getting screwed over. You can’t replace police with anything but police, district attorneys with anything but district attorneys, grand juries with anything but grand juries, and you can’t replace politicians with anything but politicians.

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