On 21 November, at a third meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council last week, this time on external trade issues, the EU trade and economy ministers discussed the Union´s external trade agenda for the next 5 years. One of the main points the Commission should take into account when leading trade negotiations with third countries, ministers agreed, is transparency. The ministers were also briefed about the on-going trade negotiations with Japan and Vietnam and the possibility of their conclusion in 2015. Other issues on the agenda were the Doha Development Agenda, public procurement in third countries or protection against subsidized and dumped imports.
On TTIP, ministers reiterated their strong support for a comprehensive and balanced trade and investment partnership with the US. Such treaty will strengthen the transatlantic link and will provide new incentives for growth and jobs. In order to highlight these benefits, the Council agreed to work on the transparency of the negotiations and on dialogue with the civil society. The Council would like to see the TTIP negotiations concluded as soon as possible.
Meanwhile in the French Senate, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade made it clear that France will not support a TTIP with Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism clauses. This issue has been largely discussed for some time now. Mainly Germany has been reluctant to support such clauses, but civil society is also uneasy about ISDS. This investment-protection mechanism would allow private companies to sue states before international arbitration bodies for damaging their investment with their legislation. Some states and other actors fear that this will in practice hamper the countries from legislating in legitimate public interest. Civil society fears that this will lead to decreasing standards, which are largely seen as higher in the EU than across the Atlantic, though this distinction is debatable. For now, ISDS remains in the negotiating mandate, but EC negotiators are reluctant to proceed on these matters, much to the disappointment of the Americans. The representatives of the US point out that ISDS is an absolutely normal tool for investment-protection treaties, and in fact is enshrined in tens of such agreements concluded by the EU Member States in the past and therefore should not be demonized. One cannot expect the American companies to sue the EU states for every piece of legislation they simply do not like, an American negotiator stated.
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