Transatlantic negotiations being held back
Thierry Pouch, Assembly of Chambers of Agriculture (APCA)
The deal was thought to be in the bag, but almost two years after the start of negotiations on the transatlantic partnership (TAFTA or TTIP), the program has not only been continually disrupted, but the voice of opposition is frequently being raised (particularly within civil society) to denounce the opacity and methods for negotiating this partnership which, it is proclaimed, will generate great profit.
In a recent editorial (extract here1), Thierry Pouch gives an interesting analysis on the current state of TAFTA negotiations. Apart from the prospect of a conclusion later than expected by the project’s enthusiasts, Thierry Pouch reminds us that the harmonization of standards and, ultimately, their convergence is currently far from satisfying all the professional sectors involved. This is the case of farmers who are particularly concerned about the inequality between EU import tariffs on agricultural products from the United States which are twice as high as those in place in the US.
More generally, for farmers, consumers and opponents of the project, it is ultimately the survival of the European agricultural and food model which is at stake. Under these conditions, is time to review the CAP which, far from securing European agriculture, exposes it to market volatility and political choices disconnected from economic reality?
The 8th round of talks ended in February, the next will be held in Washington in April and in all likelihood the conclusion of the agreement should not be before 2016 or 2017. Enough time perhaps, as Thierry Pouch concludes, to “convince the EU not to sell out on production, jobs and territories”.
momagri Editorial Board
The eighth round of negotiations between the US and the EU on the draft of the transatlantic agreement was held early February in Brussels. In principle, discussions which began in July 2013 will maintain their original pace, except that contrary to expectations, the outcome of successive meetings should be on a much longer time scale.
The plan was to move fast, as fast as possible to obtain a transatlantic agreement to be signed at the end of 2015. Its enthusiasts have been well identified; in addition to heads of government, A. Merkel, D. Cameron and F. Hollande in the lead, it was industrialists who were happiest at the possibility of an agreement emerging at the end of 2015.
And it was not lower tariffs that excited them; they are very low for manufactured goods, but the harmonization of standards, or even their convergence, in order to generate sufficient economies of scale, diminish production costs and increase competitiveness. The chemical and automotive sectors were until now in the forefront.
But several factors are blocking this enthusiasm to the point that the signing of an agreement between the United States and the European Union will be put off to at least 2016 or 2017. Moreover, the new European trade Commissioner, Swedish Cecilia Malmström, recently stated that she has five years to drive the project for the EU, due to the renewal of the Commission, which would be 2019. Note that in November 2016, the United States will be holding election campaigns to designate Barack Obama’s successor, and Trade Negotiations will not necessarily be the priority.
The first of these factors relates to the concerns of farmers, as tariffs for this sector are higher than those for industrial products. The tariffs applied by the EU on agricultural product imports from the United States are twice as high as those in force in America. The full dismantling of European tariffs (zeroing) is perceived as a threat by beef and pork breeders, especially as production costs in dollars per kilo in the US are lower.
Also, PGIs could create long-term tension among negotiators.
The second factor is a bit of a paradox. While the eradication of tariffs is likely to worry contractors due to the weakening of trade protection, it is consumers who are speaking out to identify the risks associated with the convergence of standards, in particular those concerning food, as a transatlantic deal would be a challenge to the European food model, particularly French. We now have a better understanding of why German and French citizens are expressing their concerns and are being vigilant about the negotiator’s intentions.
According to them, there is much uncertainty as to what tomorrow we will have on our plate or in our automotive safety standards.
Another obstructing factor is the possibility of including a clause in the agreement which enables multinational corporations to attack a State at “arbitration tribunals” in order to protect their economic and commercial interests. In other words, a firm would be able to prevent a State from legislating to protect the consumer, against for example, harmful products (alcohol, tobacco, GMO ...). It is a State’s sovereignty that would be under threat.
Finally the last factor, US priorities seems more focused on the outcome of the negotiations, difficult in themselves, with future partners in the Pacific, particularly Japan, predominantly for the automotive and agricultural sectors.
As we can see, the prospect of a quickly signed agreement is fading away as the rounds succeed. Although we should remain very attentive to the outcome, time is playing in favour of the most vulnerable sectors, even if it is only to convince the EU not to sell out on production, jobs and territories.
1 The entire article is available from