Recent years have been marked by a persistent global decline in democratic values and the rule of law. While many differences remain and have to be acknowledged, North America has unquestionably been our closest historical ally in championing democracy and its values across the world. The arrival of the new administration in the US has provided a new momentum and a unique opportunity to build the new transatlantic partnership and jointly manage not only the internal, but also global challenges, especially with regard to powers which do not share the same values, such as China or Russia. President Biden's initiative to organise a Summit for Democracy at a time when autocracies are on the offensive is only the first step in building a strong international democratic alliance.
The EU, US and Canada share the values of democracy, human rights, economic and political freedom and have overlapping foreign policy and security concerns. The US and Canada are amongst the EU's main trade partners and also partners in shaping the international legal order. Transatlantic relations nowadays take place in a new environment and are facing growing challenges. We consider that civil society involvement in this relationship provides a guarantee that transatlantic relations are able respond to the public's expectations and effectively contribute to shaping mutually beneficial cooperation.
The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement were signed on 30 October 2016. We will be looking for constant civil society involvement in the implementation of these agreements. Negotiations on an EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are presently at a standstill. However, the TTIP negotiations contributed to strengthening the links between the EU and US civil society and to defining civil society views on how the future trade relationship between the EU and US should look. These achievements should not be lost. Our Transatlantic Follow-up Committee was set up in September 2014 with a mandate to monitor transatlantic links with civil society, setting up regular dialogue and consultation on issues related to relations with the US and Canada.
On 12 June 2014, the Commission presented a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council codifying Council Regulation (EC) No 673/2005 of 25 April 2005 establishing additional customs duties on imports of certain products originating in the United States of America.
The EESC has played an important role in strengthening an informed civil society debate on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) through a number of TTIP-related opinions, adopted in 2014 and 2015, covering issues such as labour rights, investment protection, impact on SMEs, among others.
It is important under the present circumstances that the EESC, in order to maintain its position as a key civil society player in the TTIP debate, react to the textual proposals for TTIP negotiations on essential topics such as the sustainable development chapter, regulatory cooperation, investment and services. This will have the advantage not only of setting up the EESC position on major negotiating chapters but also of presenting concrete recommendations and pointing out the need to involve civil society in the implementation of those chapters.
The own-initiative opinion will focus on the impact of the TTIP on SMEs and reflect on the provisions that would need to be included in the TTIP in order to take account of the specific character of SMEs in the negotiations and implementation of an eventual EU-US agreement. The opinion will also look at how to increase the awareness of SMEs as to existing support services and programmes, and particularly about the new business opportunities that may arise with this agreement.
Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the investment policy is an exclusive competence of the European Union. The EU is aiming to include therefore in the new trade and investment agreements provisions on investor protection and investor to state dispute settlement (ISDS) which will replace existing Bilateral Investment Agreements (BIT) signed by Member States and will grant the same level of protection to all EU investors.
The main goal of the opinion is to provide a good and qualitative source of information and opinion in the beginning of TTIP negotiations process.