Newspaper article International New York Times

Secrecy Fuels Mistrust of Trade Talks

Newspaper article International New York Times

Secrecy Fuels Mistrust of Trade Talks

Article excerpt

European opposition to a sweeping trade deal involving the United States has focused on the confidentiality surrounding the talks.

Opposition to a sweeping trade deal between the United States and the European Union has gathered strength in Europe in recent weeks, but with a twist: The latest objections have less to do with what is known to be at stake, and more about what is unknown.

A leak of documents by Greenpeace, the environmental organization, in early May added to suspicions about the deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as opponents turned the three-year debate away from trade issues to a broader denunciation of the secrecy surrounding the talks.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany defended the treaty during a visit to her country by President Obama in late April, Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister in her coalition government, led the charge for greater transparency.

Secrecy, Mr. Gabriel said, only "creates a lot of conspiracy; this creates mistrust."

Both American and European negotiators dismissed the Greenpeace leaks as "misleading at best" and "flatly wrong," contending that they reflected a work in progress, not final documents.

But opponents say the leaked documents pointed to a need for greater openness -- or at least clarification -- on a subject that has become politically toxic on both sides of the Atlantic. Supporters accuse European governments of failing to defend a process that they set in motion in 2013.

According to a popular European perspective, the closed-door strategy is an American condition that is putting European citizens, their agricultural products and strict environmental standards at the mercy of United States-based corporations.

"The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards," Greenpeace said.

Both sides agree that confidentiality is essential to any sensitive negotiations -- a condition that was applied to earlier trade talks involving the European Union and other countries, with little objection in European capitals.

For their part, the Americans point to steps taken by the Obama administration, in its negotiations over the trade pact with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a similar agreement covering the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. …

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