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The first round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) is going to start next week in Washington. The EU-US agreement expected for 2015 should create the largest free trade area in the world, representing one third of international trade and half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Even if some people are expecting a reinforcement of trade multilateralism, the project is also seen as a threat for the European model.
The European Commission has been mandated to lead the negotiations, even if European trade ministers will have a bargaining power and the Parliament a right to vote at the end of the discussions. But the issue of democracy stays problematic since the European civil society has not been consulted nor informed.
“The European Commission is not an elected body, so the way trade negotiations are conducted is usually very opaque”, explained Natacha Cingotti, working at FOE in Europe for lobby transparency and corporate power.
Indeed, certain issues triggered deep disagreements, mainly from the European Union, which has in general high standards of protection for their citizens. One of the aims of these negotiations is to create a “standards convergence” between the two regions, which basically means an adaptation of the EU system to the US one. Recently, it has been sharply discussed between European institutions, mainly concerning issues such as food security or cultural exception (which is an important stake for France). Cingotti spoke about "a way to legitimate that we are going to get rid of some key regulations here in Europe, but also possibly in the US”.
This weekend, a scandal burst when it was discovered that the National Security Agency of the US (NSA), already accused of spying global electronic communications through the Prism program, had targeted the offices of the European Union in Brussels and the EU diplomatic mission in Washington. To Cingotti, this shows how ridiculous the argument about secrecy around negotiations is, and she recalled some of the reasons of concern from FOE in Europe about these negotiations: lack of transparency, highly privileged access for big businesses, inclusion of specific investments protections, or threat on the precautionary principle.
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