TTIP: due for a diet in the New Year resolutions?
When the negotiations for an EU-US trade deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – were launched back in 2013, advocates of the deal predicted that it could be completed “on one tank of gas”, before the US Presidential elections brought Barack Obama’s term to an end. Those elections are now less than a year away, and the prospects for a speedy end to the process are slim. That could, sources inside the negotiations suggest, induce panicky short-cuts such as dropping what had been suggested were key elements to a deal.
The latest potential ballast for jettisoning is the regulatory coherence element of the package. The influential Inside US Trade online news service reported today (Tuesday) that Daniel Hamilton, executive director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has concluded that the Obama administration is so keen to say that it achieved a trade deal with the EU “that they’re willing to go for ‘TTIP light.’”
Other possible elements that might be ditched include the infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process. Because of concerted opposition from unions, citizens’ groups and politicians from across the spectrum in the European Parliament, the European Commission is proposing an ‘alternative’ to ISDS (although, in reality, not much more than cosmetically different) for discussion at the next round of EU-US trade negotiations. US business is reported to be deeply hostile to even this minor change to ISDS, but there is no current investor protection mechanism between most of the EU and the US, and the US has signed bilateral trade agreements with countries such as Australia without ISDS, so it too could go.
Meanwhile, one of the EU’s main negotiating objectives – unstitching the ‘Buy America’ approach which provides US states with the right to purchase goods made locally – is unlikely to be achieved partly because it has bipartisan support in the US Congress, and partly because it would require agreement by the states themselves rather than the federal government alone. And that might encourage the EU to be more explicit in its stated objective of defending public services (currently the Trade Commissioner and governments like our own insist that they will be protected, but have so far refused to actually insist on such protections being written into the final agreement, which makes public service unions and users more than a little suspicious.)
A slimmed down TTIP, stripped of regulatory coherence, ISDS and public procurement liberalisation would certainly be more acceptable to critics of the deal like the TUC, ETUC and AFLCIO, although we’d still want to see measures like enforceable protections for rights at work and the environment. And it’s certainly by no means certain that neoliberals and corporate interests would be willing to accept such a TTIP light. But it gives us something to campaign for as the USA heads for crucial elections to the White House and Congress later in 2016.