New Europe met with Italy’s Deputy Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda ahead of a conference organised by the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria) in the town of Montecchio Maggiore in the province of Vicenza, Veneto.

In an exclusive interview with New Europe, Deputy Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda stressed the importance of free trade agreements and the terminated South Stream pipeline

Calenda was preparing to attend a conference organised by the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria)

 

Deputy Minister, you recently chaired an important trade council, which is, according to you, the path ahead for the TTIP. Can you please tell us more about this?

The new trade commissioner will be in Washington on December 9. My job at the council was to keep the member states compact and we had conclusions made unanimously on the acceleration of the TTIP and to close it rapidly.

We should keep as a point of reference, the negotiable mandate without extrapolating, cutting, changing the negotiation planning and take the opportunities that 2015 can offer because after this we will be entering an electoral year.

 Now the meeting on December 9 will be crucial, but the first round of negotiations will take place at the beginning of February. From this point we will understand if we are going to define the landing zones of the agreement and what are the important aspects.

 

Do you see any obstacles as regards the negotiations from either side?

From the European side, I see growing opposition, but hopefully not in every country and fortunately not in Italy, according to public opinion.

The negative thing is that this sentiment is growing thanks to data which are not corroborated by the real scope of the negotiations, because the GMOs, the public services, the welfare, the culture etc. are out of the agreement.

The problem is that this important message is going through very slowly, it hides a little bit of anti-Americanism, even if it’s clearly written in the mandate that the Italian presidency succeeded to declassify.

Our battle now is to explain to the EU citizens why we need to accelerate this agreement. We are doing it by taking into consideration a reachable agreement. We know perfectly well that from both sides there are some issues that are not going to be resolved and we have to accept it and move on.

We have to negotiate now and speed up the process because otherwise we will have to negotiate in 2017, a period when Americans are going to be stronger thanks to the energetic surplus, an important GDP growth and having the TPP probably concluded.

 The problem on the American side is that all the attention is focused on the TPP so if the TPP is closed there is room to go on with the TTIP. If the TPP fails, there is also room to proceed with the TTIP, but if the TPP negotiations drag on for months and months without reaching an end we will have a problem. The main issue is that now the focus is on the TPP. So, the TPP and TTIP are linked in the negotiation and the TPP comes first – even if the Americans say that they are able to negotiate both at the same time, this is not true.

The other problem is that the US congress is opposed to the stronger TPP than the one on the TTIP, so we risk it being blocked because the two agreements are together in the application by the president to the trade promotion authority.

 

The industrial sector is still pushing the deal in Europe?

Yes, industry is very compact and convinced that this agreement will be more important for the SMEs because the big players, which are holding around 50% of the EU-US traffic, are already able to negotiate with their partners. The challenge now is to support the potential of the SMEs.

 

There are also other FTA negotiations on the agenda. Can you tell us about these?

The agreement with Canada is closed, and the ISDS [investor–state dispute settlement] clause is not a problem. And then, Japan is a priority and we can close the deal in 2015 together with Vietnam. So, if in 2015 we would be able to close Singapore, which is almost closed, Vietnam, Japan and TTIP, we would have really changed our profile.

 

Are there still some open issues with Japan?

First, the review close was positive. We had the possibility to observe if they put into practice their engagements to eliminate their non-tariff barriers and the repost by the Commission was positive. Now there are still some issues like the automotive, agriculture and the geographical indications, but I don’t see it as a critical negotiation

 

Italian Prime Minister Renzi said that the South Stream project is not fundamental for Italy. What’s your opinion?

The South Stream was already stuck, luckily we did a great job on the TAP, which is very important and which has to proceed without useless local vetos. Yesterday, Renzi was in Algeria, which is a very important gas supplier for us. Today we met the president of Mozambique where ENI [Italy’s energy giant] is investing around $30bn on gas fields. And then we went to Angola and Congo.