World Economy

EU, US to Begin Trade Talks

EU, US to Begin Trade TalksEU, US to Begin Trade Talks

US negotiators travel to EU headquarters in Brussels Monday to jumpstart talks on the world’s biggest-ever free trade deal, which after nearly two years remain bogged down by public opposition.

The future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact, or TTIP, is in doubt in the face of bitter opposition by activists and mixed signals from key governments, including Europe’s biggest economy Germany, EU Business reported.

“This is the dirtiest trade deal in Europe’s history,” a new video posted by the anti-TTIP group Corporate Europe said.

Particularly controversial is a plan to let companies have legal disputes with governments heard by supra-national tribunals, which campaigners say would undermine national sovereignty and favor corporations.

The historic drive to create a market of 850 million people, linking the 28-nation European Union and the United States, began 20 months ago and on the eve of the eighth round of talks many believe the process is at a make-or-break stage.

The four days of talks starting Monday will be the first since the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker took office in November, with the outspoken Swede Cecilia Malmstroem charged to salvage the talks as the new trade commissioner. “This is the first round after the fresh start. I am very curious how things have developed,” said Luisa Santos of Business Europe, an influential pro-business and pro-TTIP lobby in Brussels.

  Historic Pact

The ambitious pact would be unique in history, analysts said. It would not just slash the already low trade tariffs between the world’s two top economies, but crucially it would also harmonize regulations to an unprecedented degree, affecting goods and services as far-ranging as Roquefort cheese and accounting.

Campaigners are convinced that powerful interests are selling the consumer short in secret negotiations.

But instead of setting aside negative opinion, as is often the case in the early rounds of trade talks, the EU decided to face the critics, embracing dialogue and transparency, at least to a degree.

  Transatlantic Renaissance

But the most contentious part of the deal may be the hardest to get rid of, given how keen the United States is to include rules for investor protection.

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, allows firms to sue national governments through tribunals instead of national courts if they feel that local laws – such as health and safety regulations – violate the trade deal and threaten their investments.

The influential German government has blown hot and cold on the clause despite greenlighting the EU’s mandate to achieve it.

Anti-TTIP protesters also handed in a petition signed by 1.1 million people. To make matters worse, some in the EU question Washington’s true commitment to the deal, fearing it might be more interested in Asia.