(EurActiv) — Few expect significant breakthroughs at the EU-US 14th round of trade talks starting on Monday, as negotiations seem to be deadlocked over bread-and-butter market access.
Negotiators are stuck on agriculture, services, and public procurement chapters. Fundamental disagreements persist as well on rules on investment or on intellectual property rights (geographical indications), sources said.
Meanwhile, MEPs said the latest draft version of the agreement could derail EU efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, the Guardian reported.
The EU is supposedly set to propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.
Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said last month that all EU members were on board with the process to create the world’s largest free trade and investment area, under the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Malmström said her team is pressing ahead with talks over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and is still negotiating on behalf of Britain as a member state, a condition that will continue for perhaps more than two years as London negotiates an exit.
Last week, French trade minister Matthias Fekl said that it will be impossible for the transatlantic partners to conclude negotiations by the end of 2016, because of Washington’s reluctance to make concessions.
But the real reason seems to be that France will hold presidential elections in April-May 2017 and the incumbent President François Hollande doesn’t want this issue to be part of the campaign.
Germans are also growing increasingly wary of a vast EU-US trade pact currently under negotiation, an opinion poll showed on 5 May, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped for a deal by December.
The 14th round of talks in Brussels this week is due to come to a common consolidated text.
Symbolically, TTIP’s services market negotiations will be held after the next round, starting on 18 July, sources close to the talks told EurActiv’s partner Borderlex.
The date coincides with the end of negotiations being held in Geneva on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), in parallel to the TTIP round. The EU and US are involved in TiSA alongside 21 other countries.
Commissioner Malmström said the EU and the US want to achieve “TiSA Plus” in TTIP.
In practice, both in TiSA and in TTIP the EU and US are sparring over similar issues. The EU wants the US to open up its maritime services and to end its equity cap in the telecommunications sector.
According to sources close to the talks, TiSA members disagree with the US over the very definition of “telecommunications”, with the US trying to stick to the WTO notion of “basic telecommunications”. The US for its part is not happy with the EU’s second services offer in TiSA.
In both, TiSA and TTIP, it appears the US is trying to reduce the number of individual member state “reservations” in the services schedule of the EU.
In TTIP the EU is expected to consider tabling market access commitments in financial services if sufficient progress is achieved in parallel talks held to beef up the an existing EU US Financial Markets Regulatory Dialogue to turn it into a regulatory cooperation forum that can actually deliver on dialogue and avoiding new market access barriers.
A final fundamental issue in TTIP is whether and how the EU and US will tackle the issue of free data flows. Formally, the EU is waiting for the imminent approval of the freshly renegotiated Privacy Shield by the member states to table an offer on e-commerce in TiSA. In TTIP, informal discussions have reportedly started, on the basis of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is still awaiting ratification in the US Congress.
The TPP’s ground-breaking text on e-commerce – which covers data flows – enshrines the principle of free movement of data, with due respect to national consumer protection and privacy laws. It also carves out financial services. The US is reportedly seeking to avoid carving out financial services in TTIP.
It is not yet clear whether the US will come up with a second offer on public procurement this month.
The EU requested a new offer after it deemed the US’ first offer tabled in February not satisfactory. Brussels is seeking waivers on ‘Buy American’ provisions of railway and highway projects funded by the federal government.
Few experts believe the US will offer any concession on this matter this year – a general election year.