Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Transatlantic Trade Deal Faces Stiffening Wind from Europe

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Transatlantic Trade Deal Faces Stiffening Wind from Europe

Article excerpt

A sudden chorus of criticism from European leaders seems likely to doom President Barack Obama's hopes of signing a flagship transatlantic trade deal before the end of his term of office.

The European Commission, negotiating with Washington on behalf of the 28 EU members, appears unmoved by criticism of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). "The ball is rolling right now and the Commission is making steady progress," spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas told journalists this week. "The Commission stands ready to close this deal by the end of the year."

But that seems like wishful thinking to most observers. The two sides are still far from agreement on a host of issues, and European public opinion is turning against the deal over fears that it puts corporate interests above citizens' rights.

Now, with elections looming, politicians around the continent are having second thoughts about TTIP, and some are calling for fresh talks on a new agreement that would meet their citizens' concerns about consumer protections.

"There is no political support in Paris" for the current negotiations, French Secretary of State for Trade Matthias Fekl said Tuesday. "We need a clear and definitive halt so as to later restart discussions on a proper basis."

Austrian Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner echoed his call Wednesday, saying "one should stop the negotiations now and start the entire process afresh." Earlier in the week the German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel had declared that the talks between the European Union and the US "have de facto failed, though nobody is really admitting it."

With elections due over the next 12 months in the United States, France, and Germany, "the power of the antiglobalization, antitrade lobby is so great that it would be very hard for any politician to make the case for TTIP," says Xenia Wickett, head of the US and Americas program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

"The likelihood of TTIP moving forward in any meaningful way in the next two years is very low," Ms. Wickett adds.

'Proxy for corporate greed'TTIP talks launched in 2013, designed to create the biggest ever free-trade deal, covering 800 million people. Negotiators are making an ambitious bid to go beyond tariffs and harmonize rules and regulations that can complicate commerce.

That has raised hackles in Europe, where TTIP critics are warning that negotiators are willing to sacrifice social, labor, and environmental concerns in a lowering of standards that will benefit only big business.

There is a fear that "anything done to boost trade will favor corporations and private markets, treating them better than customers," explains Laura von Daniels, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. …

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