BRUSSELS (AFP) – US negotiators travel to EU headquarters in Brussels Monday to jumpstart talks on the world’s biggest-ever free trade deal, which after nearly two years remain bogged down by public opposition.
The future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact, or TTIP, is in doubt in the face of bitter opposition by activists and mixed signals from key governments, including Europe’s biggest economy Germany.
“This is the dirtiest trade deal in Europe’s history,” a new video posted by the anti-TTIP group Corporate Europe said.
Particularly controversial is a plan to let companies have legal disputes with governments heard by supra-national tribunals, which campaigners say would undermine national sovereignty and favour corporations.
The historic drive to create a market of 850 million people, linking the 28-nation European Union and the United States, began 20 months ago and on the eve of the eighth round of talks many believe the process is at a make-or-break stage.
The four days of talks starting Monday will be the first since the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker took office in November, with the outspoken Swede Cecilia Malmstroem charged to salvage the talks as the new trade commissioner.
“This is the first round after the fresh start. I am very curious how things have developed,” said Luisa Santos of Business Europe, an influential pro-business and pro-TTIP lobby in Brussels.
The ambitious pact would be unique in history, analysts said.
It would not just slash the already low trade tariffs between the world’s two top economies, but crucially it would also harmonise regulations to an unprecedented degree, affecting goods and services as far-ranging as Roquefort cheese and accounting.
“We are dealing mainly with regulation and more specifically, de-regulation,” said Tom Jenkins, a senior advisor at ETUC, a European trade union group.
“People are quizzical to say the very least,” he said.
Campaigners are convinced that powerful interests are selling the consumer short in secret negotiations.