ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/monde/un-som...
by Gaël De Santis
Translated Thursday 27 March 2014, by
The meeting today in Brussels between the US and the EU, at which Barack Obama will be present, aims to strengthen transatlantic ties by pushing for the conclusion to a free trade agreement, which if signed, would cover half of global GDP
Both sides of the Atlantic want to push this through quickly. Or at least their leaders, lobbies and business communities do. The common people have not yet had their say on the transatlantic free trade deal between the US and EU. The EU-US summit, which opens today and at which US President Barack Obama will be present, will address the issue. “It is important to ensure that both parties reaffirm their commitment to achieving an ambitious, meaningful treaty,” said US Trade Representative Michael Froman on Saturday in Brussels. The European elections, in which local politics are under the microscope, are a cause of concern to Washington. “Europe is in the midst of a political year. We want to ensure that we do not lose momentum during this period,” added Froman.
The arrival of Obama at the summit shows the Europeans his urgency to agree the free trade deal
For the U.S, the stakes are more than just economic; they are strategic. For Froman, the raison-d’être of this Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is “more than justified” by the Ukrainian crisis. And it is within this framework that Barack Obama announced his attendance at the summit. This gesture highlights to the Europeans just how keen he is to agree a transatlantic deal, but also shows that Washington will not turn its back on the Old Continent at a time when it is also strengthening ties with South-East Asia by way of a Trans-Pacific Partnership. Michael Froman underlined these points at the end of a fourth round of negotiations between the two trading zones. While the eastern European nations are demanding a reorientation of energy supply – which they fear is too dependent on Russian natural gas, routed through the Ukraine – Michael Froman hinted that the U.S. may authorise export of its shale gas to Europe. For the moment, export is prohibited outside of the United States.
Both sides of the Atlantic are eager to sign
In order to reach an agreement, the US acknowledges the need for public input. They were obliged to “welcome” the decision by the Commission last week to organise a public consultation regarding one of the most contentious points in the TTIP: the dispute settlement mechanism. This mechanism has been heavily criticised by non-governmental organisations, since it allows multinationals to launch legal cases directly against governments. Using such a mechanism, the Slovakian Postova bank is going after Athens as the result of a bilateral investment agreement between Greece and Slovakia – the financial institution wants to be compensated for the partial write-off of the Greek debt; investment funds have condemned Spain for reducing its subsidies to renewable energy; and other similar cases can be cited from Canada, Australia and Latin America. Fierce opponents of the deal worry that any disagreement will be settled not under national law, but by international tribunals under private international law. Washington remains vigilant. This mechanism exists in “3,300 investment agreements throughout the world” asserts Michael Froman.
During the summit, the twenty-eight and the US should agree on one important point: the lifting of 96% of import tariffs. “Among the proposed objectives is the elimination of tariffs on bilateral trade,” asserts a draft report commissioned by Reuters. Today, tariffs are only 4% on average between the two zones, argue proponents of the deal, who wish to imply that it would have little impact on the manufacturing industry. In reality, the future of car or agricultural manufacturers could be significantly impacted. In these sectors, import tariffs currently exceed 10% for certain products.
Both sides of the Atlantic are eager to sign, as with each passing day public representatives are uncovering fresh parts of the deal which will affect 800 million consumers, 50% of global production and 30% of international trade. For example, the European Students’ Union this month criticised the fact that under the TTIP, US for-profit institutions could not only sell their “educational services”, but notably also have their diplomas recognised abroad.