The European Union aims to bring free trade negotiations with the United States towards a close by the summer, said Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP. Closing the negotiations this year is a necessary step if a deal is to be clinched before a change of president in the United States.
The start of the present round of talks was delayed on Monday after a blockade by Greenpeace activists, who warned against a “dead end trade deal” and called for an end to the negotiations.
EU and US negotiators are discussing plans to establish a quasi-court under the future Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement and decided to continue negotiating over the next two weeks, given the complexity of the topics at stake.
The court would allow corporations to sue governments over any environmental, health or labour safeguards that stand in the way of their investments, warned Greenpeace. Under a similar system, a Canadian energy company recently demanded $15 billion in compensation after US President Barack Obama rejected the polluting Keystone oil pipeline.
The following rounds of talks will take place in April and July, with a view to having a consolidated text on almost all issues, leaving out the most sensitive topics such as agricultural quotas.
Until now, the partners have discussed the services sector, opening up public tenders and the European Union’s proposal for a new court to settle disputes between investing companies and states, one of the most controversial parts of a would-be deal.
Investor-state rules aim to protect foreign companies from unfair treatment by host governments and provide compensation if assets are appropriated. The EU’s idea of a new court is designed to answer critics who say the private arbitration system gives multinationals the right to challenge regulations governing the environment or public health.
Commenting on the conclusion of this week’s talks, Greenpeace TTIP campaigner Susan Cohen Jehoram said: “Once again negotiators worked hard to deliver new privileges for big business, at the expense of people and the environment. They say they want to protect environmental, health and labour standards, but instead they are giving foreign corporations exclusive rights to challenge these same standards in a special court. This is a blatant disregard for democracy and the public interest. Opposition to this trade agreement is growing. The more people hear about it, the more concerned they are. And the harder it will be to ignore them.”