Challenges and perspectives of the Transatlantic Free Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement

Speakers: Paemen Hugo, Bengtsson Claes, Butikofer Reinhard
Moderator: Chaffin Joshua

On Tuesday 17th of September, at the premises of Science14 Atrium in Brussels, PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate concerning the challenges and the perspectives of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement. The event was moderated by Mr Joshua Chaffin, EU Correspondent for The Financial Times, while the discussants were Ambassador Hugo Paemen, former EU Ambassador to the US, Mr Claes Bengtsson, Member of Cabinet of Commissioner for Trade and Mr Reinhard Bütikofer MEP (Greens/European Free Alliance).

In its first part, the event format allowed the discussants to answer a preliminary question which was posed in advance to the audience, namely: “Will the EU and the US reach a comprehensive agreement before the self-imposed deadline?”. In the second part, the speakers discussed in greater detail the ideas expressed in their preliminary statements, while the third part featured a Q&A session concluding the exchange of views. Finally, the preliminary questions were put to the audience for a second time.

Questioned for the first time, the audience appeared more negatively oriented, as the majority of the attendees replied negatively.

The three discussants then proceeded to deliver their preliminary speeches. In his introductory speech, Ambassador Hugo Paemen started by assessing the context in which the two parties are negotiating.

Ambassador Paemen described the history of EU-US trade negotiations, the current transatlantic trade agenda, as well as the behaviours of the two negotiating actors and asserted that a comprehensive trade and investment agreement between the EU and the US could be highly profitable.

He added that, due to the evolution of the global market, international trade relations have significantly changed in the last twenty years. The main actors in international trade are increasingly adopting a bilateral approach in order to conclude significant trade agreements. In his opinion, this process is the result of an impoverishment of the role of the WTO, which is supposed to be the main point of reference for the global trade governance and is losing ground in playing its role.

Ambassador Paemen concluded that the support of the national governments will be crucial to the success of TTIP which may be challenging in times of economic crisis.

Mr Bütikofer affirmed that, given the broad scope and the sensitiveness of the issues at stake, it will be difficult to reach an agreement between the two parties. However, he added that a convergence between the EU and the US is still possible, should the civil society be deeply involved and should delicate issues like GMO or ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) be put aside.

Mr Bengtsson started by saying that the TTIP, as one of the biggest bilateral trade deals ever negotiated, could be highly beneficial for the European Union and that the TTIP agreement should enhance both the competitiveness and the growth of the internal market, while allowing job creation within the EU.

Mr Bengtsson also remarked that the benefits of an agreement would result in the reduction of the regulatory burden on companies operating in both markets.

One focal point of the discussion consisted of the two parties’ difficulty in reaching a high level of regulatory convergence, especially in terms of safety and environmental standards.

Concerning these issues, Mr Bengtsson, while recognising the challenges of such a convergence, affirmed that an agreement is reachable, while Mr Bütikofer emphasised that these matters have encountered a great amount of scepticism among his political group, although with different degrees of boldness.

Another focal point of the debate was the assessment of the scale of the current changes in the international trade arena, with special regard to the evolution which has been induced by the Chinese economic development and its increasing importance on a global scale.

The final part of the debate and the Q&A session covered the issues of: past transatlantic trade relations, regulatory convergence on financial services, healthcare-related matters and safety standards, the EU and US reactions to the economic crisis.

Consulted again on the preliminary questions, the audience did not substantially change its initial attitude towards the matters discussed.

Do you want to deepen the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you

In focus,Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), European Commission
Official web-page of the European Commission Directorate General for Trade

What They’re Saying: TTIP, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries.

T-TIP Working Group, Trans-Atlantic Business Council
The TABC is a cross-sectoral business association representing 70 global companies headquartered in the U.S. and the EU.

Members and Observers Information, World Trade Organisation
The WTO provides a forum for negotiating agreements aimed at reducing obstacles to international trade and ensuring a level playing field for all.

I’ll trade you, Centre For European Reform
The Centre for European Reform is a think-tank devoted to making the European Union work better and strengthening its role in the world.