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TTIP talks — what are the key issues for civil society?

The benefits of the TTIP should reach SMEs, consumers and citizens, according to a new opinion from the EESC

With discussions for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) now at a critical point, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has published a new opinion, ‘The position of the EESC on specific key issues of the TTIP negotiations’. The own-initiative opinion by rapporteur Philippe de Buck (Employers' group) and co-rapporteur Tanja Buzek (Workers' group) assesses some key issues of the negotiations and identifies the main considerations for European civil society. This new opinion analyses how EESC concerns expressed in previous opinions have so far been addressed in the EU position papers and textual proposals, and offers recommendations concerning further clarification, reassurances and precautionary steps. Particular attention is given to the EU chapters on regulatory cooperation, customs and trade facilitation, trade and sustainable development, technical barriers to trade (TBT), and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS).

A report prepared by the Commission estimates that 76% of the TTIP’s impact on sustainability will result from regulatory cooperation. The new EESC opinion emphasises the importance of ensuring that regulatory cooperation improves social, labour and environmental standards, rather than undermining them. The EU textual proposal on regulatory cooperation includes public policy objectives and declares the objective of safeguarding a high level of protection and clarifies that the institutional structure created will not have the power to adopt legal acts or replace domestic regulatory procedures. While expressing satisfaction with these aspects, the EESC also calls for the Chapter on good regulatory practices not to limit parties' right to regulate or introduce procedures equivalent to the US notice-and-comment process and insists the arrangements for representative stakeholder involvement are further clarified.

While the EESC welcomes the comprehensive and detailed scope of the EU’s trade and sustainable development proposal, it recommends strengthening of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that sustainability standards are met. The Committee notes with satisfaction that in the recent proposal on the institutional set up of the agreement includes the creation of Domestic advisory groups (DAGs), composed of civil society representatives and competent to advise the parties on the application of the agreement. The Committee welcomes the fact that the mandate of DAGs is widened to cover any issue of interest under the agreement, an old claim of the EESC that is finally accepted by EU negotiators. It regrets however that the two DAGs are not foreseen as members of a joint consultative body for EU-USA civil society organisations. This body should be able to meet at its own initiative and issue joint recommendations to the Parties.

Regarding the EU chapters on TBT and SPS, the opinion acknowledges that proposals on standardisation, technical regulations, as well as marking and labelling are important for gaining access to new markets. However, it recommends “more detailed work on marking and labelling requirements” and “further reassurances that EU food legislation will not be changed”.

The EESC commends the Commission’s commitment to transparency, but urges it to discuss with the US the possibility of making later texts available to the public, or at least to the EU Advisory Group.

The EESC has an important institutional role to play in TTIP negotiations. The purpose of this opinion is to develop a cooperative approach to trade policy between the European Commission and civil society.