TTIP: MEPs want better access to U.S. markets, investor-state dispute reform, protection of EU standards

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Bernd Lange discusses the TTIP

The rocky road to finalisation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) continues as the European Parliament today made recommendations on the controversial free trade agreement. Among them was the recognition of a more transparent debate surrounding the deal.

MEPs seem to be grasping the monumental importance of such a deal, with rapporteur Bernd Lange (S&D, DE) stating “if it is to work for the benefit of the people, then it cannot be left in the hands of the negotiators alone.” This comes after a turbulent few months of revelations that pesticide regulations would be relaxed in the EU as well as fears over the future of public healthcare systems across the continent.

Protecting the home front

Though much of the TTIP coverage has focused on U.S. interests gaining more access to EU economies, this marks bolder direction for the European Parliament, who seem to be more keen to secure key victories for Europe. These include protection of workers’ rights, public data and public services (such as healthcare). The European Parliament wants to appear more proactive in the protection of many hot-button issues too, and wants to strike a deal that is fair to both the U.S. and the EU.

Amongst other highlights is the hotly debated investor-state dispute instrument. Initially, the controversial arbitration system would set up separate mechanisms for firms to make claims against governments, and has been a huge point of contention with the public. It is seen as an essential component of the TTIP. However, today MEPs attempted to reassure the public that they were working towards a transparent system. This would allow disputes to take place in open court and in the public eye. As the European Commission notes, trade is the most important part of this deal and this is likely to remain the largest issue facing the two sides.

TTIP is a two-way street

Better access to key U.S. markets was also on the agenda. These include the U.S. airline market, where existing federal rules prevent foreign interests from owning more than 25% of a given airline. The European Parliament also called for better access at all levels to the telecommunications industry.

Finally, little clarity was giving on the harmonisation of standards in areas where the EU and U.S. differ significantly – chiefly GMOs, cloning, chemical use and pharmaceuticals. The U.S. tends to have a more relaxed approach to regulation in these areas and it is likely that the EU will want to maintain it’s current regulation system going forward. Progress is being made though, and it seems that the TTIP is moving forward – albeit if more slowly that both sides might have anticipated.