The “shady” deal between the European Union and United States, otherwise known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), must be concluded by the end of the Obama presidency, warned the EU’s External Relations Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper during which she called the United States’ “Buy American” Act “offensive”.
Malmström, one of the most outspoken voices on TTIP, said that while U.S. Republicans may be amenable to the deal, Europe simply doesn’t have the time to wait for “hearings” and “getting to know” new U.S. counterparts if the Democrats lose the presidency in 2016.
The deal, which has caused major controversies across Europe, is touted as a “free trade” agreement, though critics argue that it would hinder national governments from policy-making, leaving them open to challenge from big corporate giants. There are also suggestions that the deal will prioritise big firms and import U.S. regulatory standards – often perceived as much more lax – to Europe.
In reality, the likelihood is that the trade deal with have the converse implications, with U.S. businesses expected to keep up to scratch with onerous, burdensome EU regulation.
Nevertheless, Malmström and her colleagues want the deal fastracked.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants the deal sown up by the end of 2015 – a target that Malmström says “was never realistic”.
“If by the end we all offers and demands on the table and move forward quickly, the skeleton of the agreement maybe [concluded by the end of the year]… so the outline. In this case we would have a good chance of [being] ready to negotiate… with the Obama administration, which is our goal.”
But asked if the EU wouldn’t want to wait until there was a “free trade-loving Republican in the White House”, she replied: “…we would lose a lot of time with hearings, incorporating, getting to know. We need the agreement quickly in order to boost our economy.”
On the controversy of the deal, she was slightly more honest than usual.
“I would be crazy to deny that there is a heated debate in many countries. In total there are, in the EU, probably a majority in favour, but this is more of a silent majority.
“The criticism, however, is very loud – and I have the impression that there is more skepticism is growing in some countries.”
And on the lack of transparency surrounding TTIP, Malmström blamed the American government: “The Americans have a different tradition: they involve a very large group of about 5,000 people, [who have] received the documents. They will not be published. It is not in my power to publish US documents.”
And Malmström, in German, told the newspaper that the United States’ “Buy American” Act was “offensive” and partly one of the issues holding up the deal. U.S. government agencies are required to “prefer” American products and companies throughout the procurement process.
“Agriculture remains a difficult issue… Even public tenders are tricky, because the United States has a very offensive interest in their ‘Buy American’ clause.”
Malmström steered clear of endorsing U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric on TTIP, when she called it an “economic NATO”, though she did say reveal that the deal is less to do with free trade, and more to do with minimum requirements and standardisation.
“I would not say ‘Economic NATO’. That draws it in the wrong direction. But we, despite all the disagreements with the Americans, agree about consumer protection or that children can safely play with their toys, and it should not be produced by child labour.
“If we use those standards together, they will be global standards. If we do not, others will do it at a much lower level.”