“The EU and the United States have made considerable progress in negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement since the negotiations were launched in July 2013”. This is the assessment according to a Joint Report released today January 17, 2016 by EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström and outgoing United States Trade Representative (USTR), Michael Froman, which outlined the state of play of negotiations on the TTIP to date.
In 2013 the US and EU set out to conclude an “ambitious, balanced, comprehensive, and high-standard agreement”. Since then fifteen negotiating rounds have been held between July 2013 and October 2016. The future of the TTIP is currently uncertain given incoming US President Donald Trump’s seeming aversion to mega free trade agreements which he argues could undermine American workers and manufacturing, and his stated preference for bilaterals. While he has railed against the concluded but not yet ratified 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), President-elect Trump has said comparatively little on TTIP and the agreement’s future appears uncertain. It is worth noting though that similar to TPP there has been a significant popular backlash against TTIP. Another spanner in the works is the impending exit of the UK from the EU. President-elect Trump has already indicated an interest in pursuing a US-UK free trade agreement post-Brexit.
The Joint report reiterated the perceived expected benefits to accrue from TTIP, including increased trade and investment flows, promotion of higher standards in the global economy, and strengthen an already strong trans-Atlantic partnership.
In explaining the current state of play, the Joint Report noted some of the things on which the EU and US have found common ground:
- Exchanged offers to eliminate duties on 97% of tariff lines
- Identified steps to reduce unnecessarily burdensome requirements and delays at borders
- TTIP must include strong obligations to protect the environment and foundamental labour rights.
- Negotiated a dedicated chapter focused on small medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
However, the report did note that there was still significant work to resolve differences in several important areas. A few of the several areas identified were:
- how to treat the most sensitive tariff lines on both sides
- how to expand and lock in market access in key services sectors
- how to reconcile differences on sanitary and phytosanitary measures; how to encourage the recognition of qualifications to facilitate licensing of experienced professionals
- how to improve access to each other’s government procurement markets
- how best to achieve our shared objective of providing strong investor protection while preserving the right of governments to regulate
In perhaps a last ditch to make the case for TTIP before the Trump administration assumes office on Friday, the report expressed the view that political will and continued engagement by both sides could lead to a successful outcome.
To this effect, EU Commission’s press release quotes Commissioner Malmström as stating “We have made considerable, tangible progress, as this summary demonstrates. I look forward to engaging with the incoming US administration on the future of transatlantic trade relations.“
The full report may be read here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.