The European Council Votes to Start Trade Negotiations with the USA: Is this TTIP 2.0?

What seemed dead and buried has once again reared its ugly head. A vote this Monday has breathed new life into the widely scorned TTIP agreement. The European council voted in favor of accepting the mandates proposed by the European Commission, in order to pursue a new trade deal with the United States.

The implicit and not so implicit threat (really…) of a trade war between the US and Europe are at the base of the TTIP’s exhumation.

France was the only country to oppose the decision, citing US President Donald Trump’s refusal to honor the Paris agreement as grounds for not negotiating a new trade deal. Cynics might be tempted to view the protest vote as easy point scoring and posturing from French President Emmanuel Macron, but it certainly raises the question of how a deal might affect European countries’ duties to fulfill their climate obligations in good faith. In February, Slow Food joined Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, and other civil society organizations, in calling upon the council to reject the plan, and not enter into negotiations with the US as long as its leadership refuses to adhere to the Paris accords.

Upon closer inspection, the vote has not produced as negative a result as it might have. Perhaps due to the unpopularity that the TTIP garnered during its first run, the new mandate effectively cleans the slate, asserting that any directives agreed upon in June 2013 are obsolete and no longer relevant. Likewise, the scope of the mandate is somewhat reassuring. Negotiations, for the moment at least, will be limited to tariffs on industrial products, excluding all agricultural products. The bad news, however, is that US officials have already poured water on the chances of a deal that does not include agricultural products. One negative scenario could see the inclusion of agriculture becoming a bargaining chip, introduced into negotiations at a later time. Nevertheless, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, categorically ruled out any discussion of agriculture with the US, setting the scene for a potential stalemate further down the track.

While the resurrection of the TTIP does not augur well in any way, efforts have been made to distance this new round of negotiations from the original TTIP, and the exclusion of agricultural products from the mandate means that nasty surprises are unlikely to appear in any CAP proposals in the lead-up to European elections.

There is no cause for panic just yet, but perhaps some concern.

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