Politico | 29 September 2015
TTIP negotiations not even half done
By Quentin Ariès and Hans von der Burchard
Negotiations on a massive EU-U.S. trade agreement are not even halfway complete, according to a new European Commission internal assessment, and the lack of progress is raising questions about Brussels’ hopes for concluding the agreement before the end of the Obama administration.
A Commission status report, obtained by POLITICO, shows that on 10 of the 24 chapters of the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, the two sides haven’t yet exchanged their positions, much less started to negotiate.
While Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s officials have already sent all of the EU position papers to their counterparts at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, the documents from Washington on many key issues were still missing as of mid-September, according to the Commission’s report, which was prepared by its trade department. Even in some cases where both sides have exchanged their points of view, the document shows, negotiations have yet to begin, are incomplete or have been halted.
“It is high time the U.S. stop dragging their feet,” said Bernd Lange, chairman of the international trade committee in the European Parliament, adding that the EU stands ready to negotiate. “But it takes two to tango, and what we want to see now are serious offers.”
The slow pace of talks has some EU countries worried about whether the deal can move forward at all.
Matthias Fekl, the French secretary for international trade, told the newspaper Sud Ouest Monday that France “had not received a serious proposal from the U.S.” since 2013, and said that further negotiations could be suspended unless progress is made.
With the 11th round of TTIP negotiations scheduled for mid-October in the U.S., Malmström is making a new effort to re-invigorate the talks.
“We need to intensify the pace of our negotiations. That means stepping up efforts on both sides,” Malmström said last week after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Washington.
Officials on both sides have described the talks as in a “mid-game status” and in recent days have expressed optimism about them moving forward. Speeding the negotiations was also pushed by G7 leaders last June.
Negotiations on TTIP started in July 2013. At a POLITICO event in Brussels earlier this month, Malmström said “a lot of technical work has been done in the last two years, but we still need now to go to crunch time.”
U.S. looking to Asia, not Europe
But the Commission assessment raises questions about whether the talks can be accelerated as long as the U.S. side has not set its position on so many key issues.
The missing chapters include talks in the field of “regulatory cooperation” on chemicals, cosmetics, engineering, pesticides and information and communication technologies. Other sensitive topics like common rules for energy and raw materials or intellectual property are also still not at the negotiation stage.
Two EU sources involved in the negotiations said Washington’s focus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently being negotiated between the U.S. and several Asian countries (including Japan, South-Korea, Vietnam and Singapore), is causing the delay.
According to sources, discussion on sensitive topics like agricultural tariffs has been delayed by the U.S. focus on the Asian negotiations.
Officials at the U.S. Mission to the EU and the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment on the Commission document or the status of the negotiations. The European Commission also declined to comment.
On other topics, the U.S. side has shared its position with the EU, but progress is being held up at other stages of the negotiation, according to the status report. In these cases — including market access for “trade in goods and customs duties” or regulatory cooperation for “food safety and animals & plant health” — draft agreements from both sides of the talks have not been presented to MEPs, EU member states, or the Commission’s TTIP advisory board, which includes business groups and non-governmental organizations.
And in the best cases, there is partial political agreement on both sides but the legal wording is still being discussed. These include competition issues, the textiles sector, public procurement and “technical barriers to trade” (such as avoiding repetition of similar regulatory procedures and access to information for health and safety measures).
The slow pace of the talks has prompted some EU leaders, including British Prime Minster David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to call on the Commission to speed up negotiations. But Brussels officials say they are stuck as long as they don’t get responses from Washington.