EU tries to clear ‘fog of confusion’ over US trade pact

22 Aug, 2015 11:23 am

BRUSSELS/BERLIN – The European Commission will publish detailed reports on its negotiations with the United States to forge the world’s biggest trade pact, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said, responding to criticism that the talks have been shrouded in secrecy.

If agreed, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would encompass a third of world trade, and proponents say it would deliver more than $100 billion of economic gains on both sides.

But opponents in Europe have voiced concern that it could erode EU standards on food safety and the environment, and argued the negotiations have not been transparent.

In a blog post, Malmstrom said one of her first decisions as trade commissioner when she took office last year had been to make the negotiations more open, but the debate “seems to have been caught up in a fog of confusion”.

To address that, she said that from now on the Commission will published “detailed and extensive reports” on its website in all official EU languages.

The move came after Germany had urged the Commission to restore EU governments’ access to electronic reports on the state of the negotiations, which it had halted last month in order to end a series of leaks.

A spokesman for German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed he had written to Malmstrom to express his concerns about that move, which he called “the latest setback in transparency efforts.”

It was essential that politicians in individual member states were fully informed about the talks, he wrote in an Aug. 20 letter, published by investigative news site Correct!v.

“Only this way can we create the necessary legitimacy and acceptance for the talks, the result of which the German parliament must also vote on.”

Gabriel is struggling to drum up support for the TTIP, which is backed by only 39 percent of Germans, according to a PEW Research Center survey.

Asked for reaction to Malmstrom’s blog post, an economy ministry spokesman said: “We welcome that the Commission has moved on this important question. This step must, however, also lead to more transparency compared with the process up to now.”

He said Germany would keep talking to the Commission to make sure members of national parliaments were kept fully informed about the negotiations via access to ‘consolidated documents’.

So far, 10 rounds of TTIP talks have taken place and further negotiations are expected later this year with a view to finalising a deal in 2016, Malmstrom said early this month.

One hurdle was overcome in July when the European Parliament backed a compromise on setting up a new European court to settle disputes arising from any trade pact. -Reuters

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