EU and U.S. trade negotiators are meeting this week in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia for the fifth round of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. Negotiations began last July with the aim of creating the world‘s largest free trade zone with 800 million consumers and 40 percent of global economic output.
The proposed TTIP would eliminate import duties (which are already some of the lowest in the world) and other obstacles to free trade and create a common framework of regulatory standards. Officials claim that the deal would provide a much needed boost to economies on both sides of the Atlantic and could potentially create up to 2 million new jobs.
Negotiators responsible for regulatory coherence, intellectual property rights, labour, and regulatory areas in certain trade sectors began their work on Monday. Additional groups involved during the week include those dealing with services and investment, technical barriers to trade, agricultural market access, and rules of origin. Energy is also expected to be high on the agenda with critical areas of dispute such as public procurement still needing to be addressed. The EU is said to be urging the U.S. to enable European firms to bid on federal contracts, if not state-level contracts over which Washington has no direct control.
Backers of the deal had initially set an optimistic time line for a final agreement by late 2014 or early 2015, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently referred to “late” 2015 as the date for getting it done.
Negotiations have been increasingly hampered by a growing degree of push-back from various factions and advocacy groups in civil society as well as governments and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, the leak of an EU paper on “regulatory coherence” provoked nearly 200 organizations to register a protest earlier this week with the top EU and U.S. trade officials. Today, European milk producers came out against the agreement declaring that “The agreement is a severe threat to the EU – economically, ecologically and socially.”
Further complicating matters are the pending mid-term elections in America and the EU parliamentary elections happening this week. Martin Schulz, the Socialist candidate for European Commission president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, a top Conservative candidate for the European Parliament, have both declared opposition to the proposed TTIP. In the U.S., with public opinion fairly divided on the issue of free trade, leading Republicans and Democrats have been unwilling to express support for the deal and the U.S. Congress has refused to grant the Obama administration the “fast track” trade promotion authority that would speed the negotiating process and strengthen its position at the bargaining table.