Politico | 18 January 2016
MEPs support ambitious global trade pact
By Hans von der Burchard
The European Parliament on Monday backed talks on a proposed pact with 22 countries that aims to improve international trade in areas including banking, health care and telecommunications.
The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which the EU is negotiating with the U.S., Canada, Australia, Turkey and others, won strong support in the Parliament’s international trade committee. It was backed by 33 lawmakers, with 6 voting against and one abstention.
The deal would cover up to 70 percent of global trade in services, the EU says. Advocates argue it will be particularly important for the exchange of data flow between countries.
“Half of trade in services is enabled through data transfers, and the stock of data is doubling every 20 months,” said center-right MEP and former European commissioner Viviane Reding. “The problem is that the current rules date back from the digital stone age .”
In light of the NSA spying scandal and other cases of data misuse, the resolution backed by the committee Monday says “restoring trust in the digital world is crucial” and calls on the European Commission “to ensure that TiSA contains future-proof rules and prevents fragmentation of the digital world.”
At the same time, lawmakers want the EU’s new data protection regulations, on which Parliament and Council reached a deal in December, to be fully respected.
The resolution will now be voted upon by the full Parliament, likely in February.
The four largest political groups — the European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats, European Conservatives and Reformists, and the Liberals — back the text, and the Greens, despite initial opposition, are now also on board. The far-right and far-left voted against.
“The Commission must change its negotiation strategy,” said Ska Keller of the Greens. “We voted in favor of this resolution, as it demands that services of general public interest must be fully excluded from liberalization.”
Although the Commission negotiates trade deals for the EU, the Parliament will ultimately have to give its support.
Unions are fighting the pact, saying it would undermine the right of national governments to regulate sectors such as banking and telecoms.
The Parliament’s resolution, however, demands that TiSA must “legally secure European, national and local authorities’ right to regulate.”
“The EU should be optimistic,” said Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake. “We are already very open to services, but many other states aren’t. So Europe has a lot to win by this agreement.”
Negotiations on the deal started in March 2013. In September last year, Uruguay and Paraguay dropped out of the talks, citing concerns about losing the ability to regulate. A U.S. official told POLITICO that finishing the negotiations in 2016 is “ambitious but possible.”