International Trade Committee puts TTIP negotiations back on the table

On Tuesday February 19, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee approved a new mandate for negotiations of two very unpopular free trade agreements with the USA (with a narrow centre-right majority).

While proponents of the new mandate claim that it is ‘limited’ in scope, the proposed agreement on free trade in industrial goods and fisheries still covers up to 95 per cent of trade in non-agriculture goods between Europe and the US.

In parallel, an agreement on the mutual recognition of standards and testing requirements will be negotiated.

Helmut Scholz MEP responds: “It is very disappointing that a slim majority of MEPs – from the ALDE, EPP and ECR groups – defeated our approach.”

“We had supported the rapporteur in his request to Council, not to give a mandate for negotiations while Europe is still under threat from the Trump administration.

“We were even ready to support his compromise offer, to declare the lifting of illegal tariffs on steel and aluminium products and abandoning the threat to impose 25 per cent tariffs on cars and car parts from Europe, as well as respecting the Paris Agreement and committing to climate protection as a pre-condition to begin negotiations on trade in industrial goods.

“Instead, the centre-right parties obeyed the threats of Trump and accepted to enter into negotiations on their knees, merely asking for lifting the tariffs before the negotiations are concluded.”

In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution to ‘make ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement a condition for the selection of partner countries for future trade agreements’.

The text adopted by the International Trade Committee yesterday, however, inserts a caveat which applies the condition on trade partners ratifying the Paris Agreement only to ‘comprehensive trade talks’, rather than ‘limited’ ones, and states that ‘those agreements should represent an exception dictated by specific circumstances.’

“These circumstances have a name: Donald Trump”, comments MEP Scholz.

“It’s very disappointing that right-wing MEPs have pushed ahead despite leaked information from the US Department of Commerce on the imposition of 25 per cent punitive tariffs on European motor vehicles,” he continues.

“Trump just commented that he will impose the 25 per cent tariffs if there is no agreement on the trade negotiations with the EU. I call that a direct threat.”

“People need to know that the negotiating directives of the US include a strict demand to include agriculture into the scope of the trade agreement and to exclude cars and car parts.”

“We had the opportunity to pass a mandate for a very limited trade agreement on industrial goods that would put Europe in a strong bargaining position. My group had insisted that such negotiations would have to include a binding and enforceable chapter on labour rights and working conditions and environment protection rules in the production processes.

“Instead, MEPs decided to bow to the threats from the White House. Trump will have the impression that his bullying tactics are successful.

“International trade should be about fair competition, coping with the challenges of climate change and environmental protection, and ensuring high quality secure jobs.

“Throwing out binding social and environmental obligations is not acceptable for the left.”

Until yesterday’s vote, the negotiations on the US-EU trade agreement – TTIP – had been halted since 2017 due a decision by US President Trump, as well as public outrage in Europe and in the United States over the contents of the agreement.

In its new resolution, the International Trade Committee reiterated that the TTIP negotiations have clearly shown, that at this stage the political and economic conditions for a comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and the US are not met, because of the complexity and different trade approaches and rules of the two parties”.

The Committee’s vote was very close with 21 votes in favour and 17 against. The whole European Parliament must now vote on the decision to determine whether negotiations will recommence. The amendments critical of the negotiations will be re-tabled in the second plenary session in March in Strasbourg.


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