Ploumen: TTIP paused

Foreign trade minister Lilianne Ploumen has announced that it will not be possible to conclude a free trade and investment agreement with the United States before the end of this year. Speaking in Bratislava, where she is attending an informal meeting with fellow trade ministers, the minister said ‘European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has laid the facts on the table: the US has shown insufficient sign of changing its position on matters which are crucial to EU, like open contract award procedures and a fairer, more transparent Investment Court System (ICS). There’s nothing to indicate that they will do so over the coming few months, so essentially the process has now been paused.’

Ms Ploumen indicated that talks would nevertheless continue over the coming months, in order to round off the negotiations on issues which the EU and the US do agree on. This will also provide a new opportunity to address issues which are important to the EU – for example the ICS and market access. ‘But after the US presidential elections have taken place and a new president has taken office in early 2017, a period of reflection will be necessary on both sides before negotiations are resumed,’ the minister said. ‘I believe this period should be used to enter into a broad dialogue with interest groups, NGOs, businesses, trade unions and any others who wish to discuss how the deal with the US should be shaped. We have the opportunity to make a fresh start, to reset TTIP and to make the negotiation process more transparent and more widely supported.’

The minister emphasised her continued support for a balanced and ambitious agreement with the US. ‘I’m convinced that this type of deal will benefit the Netherlands: our employees, consumers and entrepreneurs,’ she said. ‘Let us make the most of this pause to ensure that we get a deal which, like CETA, sets the tone for a new global trade policy. The preconditions for this are transparency, human and environmental wellbeing, and a fair justice system.’

CETA was also on the agenda in Bratislava. Ms Ploumen said that the agreement is widely supported. ‘CETA combines an ambitious trade and investment agenda with a firm commitment to sustainability and transparency,’ she explained. ‘The decision to sign CETA should include a legally binding declaration, clearly indicating how Canada and the EU interpret certain provisions.’ The minister added that it must, for example, be made clear that the sustainability chapters on topics like labour law and the environment should be given teeth: if these provisions are contravened, organisations and stakeholders should be able to seek redress.

Ms Ploumen also wants an unambiguous confirmation of member states’ right to determine which services – for example water supply or public transport – will remain in public hands. The minister’s final requirement is that the precautionary principle is explicitly named as the applicable principle for trade with the EU. The precautionary principle lays down that only products and production processes which have been proven not to have adverse effects on human health or the environment are permitted.

‘It’s not just the EU member states who want this,’ Ms Ploumen continued. ‘I’ve discussed this with the Canadians too, and I have high hopes that we will ultimately be able to reach an agreement and add these declarations to CETA. I fully expect a formal decision on the signing and the provisional application of certain elements to be taken before the EU-Canada summit. But we haven’t reached that stage yet. Talks are currently being held on the key steps that still need to be taken.’

Ms Ploumen went on to say that provisional application will benefit the Netherlands, as CETA will offer advantages for Dutch consumers and businesses. In Bratislava the Netherlands argued that the provisions on investment protection and the ICS should be excluded from provisional application. This met with wide support from other member states. It was also decided that several other provisions which fall within the exclusive competence of member states will be excluded.