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Ins and outs of EU-US trade deal

When, in November 2011, US and EU leaders agreed to take action “to boost trade and revive stagnant economies on both sides of the Atlantic”, many believed the proposed new deal would be the medicine that the western economies needed to move out of the recession. In 2013, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP for short, was launched.

Today, the ins and outs of the proposed EU-US trade agreement are being analysed by political leaders, trade unions, businesses and ordinary people who feel their lives will be affected by what is being negotiated in these talks.

The main focus of negotiations between the EU and the US is to cut tariffs and remove regulatory barriers to promote trade between the US and member states. In theory, this should make it easier for large corporations on both sides of the Atlantic to access each other’s markets.

The World Trade Institute has published a study about the impact of the TTIP on EU countries and the US. One of the conclusions is “that Malta is likely to be the only EU country not to benefit from the agreement”.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona welcomed the deal and said it would open up new opportunities for Maltese businesses. He also pointed out that the government’s position remained unchanged despite the new study.

Elena Portelli, from the anti-TTIP lobby, argues that the authorities could not continue to avoid discussing the issue on a national level. MEP Alfred Sant, a former prime minister, shared this concern and even voiced fears about the agreement in the wake of the new study.

Ordinary people are more than justified in wanting to know what is being negotiated in secretive talks between EU and US politicians and bureaucrats, especially because there seems to be a rush to conclude the deal before the US presidential elections in November.

Pro-TTIP lobbyists maintain that consumers will benefit by the removal of EU import tariffs on popular goods such as jeans and cars. They also say that EU businesses, especially SMEs, will benefit as new markets in the US will be open to them.

Political hype is never missing. UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised to put “rocket boosters” behind talks to secure the deal. There seems to be a political majority in most countries that supports the proposed trade agreement.

However, opposition to the TTIP is also very vociferous because a deep analysis of how things will change once an agreement is concluded appears to be unpalatable to many who see beyond the immediate economic advantages. Opponents of the TTIP fret about how things will change for the worse if and when the deal comes into force.

The European Commission claims that public services will be kept out of it. However, many believe that Europe’s public health, education and water services could be affected if US companies insist that the market for such services should be liberalised and open to private operators.

The proposed investor-State dispute settlement provision would allow companies to sue foreign governments over claims of unfair treatment and to be entitled to compensation. Critics understandably argue that such measures would undermine the power of national governments to act in the interest of their citizens.

Other concerns of TTIP critics relate to privacy issues where the US has more invasive provisions.

Rushing head-on to conclude the TTIP would be foolhardy because ordinary people need to know more on how their lives will be affected by the agreement.

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