WASHINGTON — Top U.S. and European Union trade officials scrambled Monday to downplay and contain potential fallout after Greenpeace released what it said was a significant portion of the negotiating documents for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership accord.
U.S. and EU negotiators wrapped up the 13th round of talks in New York on Friday. They have been negotiating for more than three years to forge a deal that would eliminate tariffs on imports, streamline regulations, remove burdensome technical barriers and eliminate redundancies in areas such as Customs procedures, product safety testing and certification and labeling requirements.
But the release of more than 200 pages of negotiating text apparently stemming from the 12th negotiating round in February, which is typically closely guarded during trade negotiations due to political sensitivities, could potentially impact negotiations this year.
It also gives nongovernmental organizations, business and environmental and labor rights groups more insight into negotiations, as well as increased opposition to the deal that would intensify pressure on policymakers. Some of the leaked documents have a European Commission letterhead from the Directorate General for Trade.
Greenpeace, which released the documents at 11:00 a.m. in Berlin on Monday, claimed the T-TIP negotiating documents revealed that the proposals threaten and weaken longstanding environmental and consumer protections and throw the door open to corporations’ influence.
“It is time to shine a light on these negotiations. Hard-won environmental progress is being bartered away behind closed doors. These documents reveal that civil society was right to be concerned about T-TIP. We should stop the negotiations and start the debate,” said Faiza Oulahsen, campaigner for Greenpeace Netherlands. “The complete and most recent version of the treaty text should be released at once, so that citizens and elected representatives have the chance to understand what is being proposed in their names.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office would not comment on the “validity of the alleged leaks,” but argued that the “interpretations being given to these texts appear to be misleading at best and flat-out wrong at worst.”
“From the outset of trade negotiations with the EU, we have been clear that our goal is for T-TIP to promote economic growth, boost jobs, increase public participation and transparency in regulatory processes, and reflect our shared transatlantic values,” he said. “T-TIP will preserve, not undermine, our strong consumer, health, environmental standards, and position the U.S. and the EU to work together to push standards higher around the world. We look forward to having a fact-based discussion about what T-TIP seeks and does not seek to achieve.”
Cecilia Malmström, trade commissioner at the European Commission, said in a blog post: “First of all, and contrary to what many seem to believe, so-called ‘consolidated texts’ in a trade negotiation are not the same thing as an outcome. They reflect each side’s negotiating position, nothing else. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are areas where the EU and the U.S. have different views.”
“It is only normal that both parties in a negotiation want to achieve as many of their own objectives as possible. That does not mean that the other side gives in to those demands. That does not mean that the parties will meet halfway. In areas where we are too far apart in a negotiation, we simply will not agree. In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” she added.
Negotiators have agreed to remove tariffs covering 97 percent of tariff lines and still need to negotiate details on 3 percent of the most sensitive product categories. It’s estimated that all duties would be eliminated on 87.5 percent of tariff lines upon entry into force of a T-TIP accord, while some would be eliminated in a three-year basket and some lines in seven years.
The U.S. market is the biggest export destination for EU textiles and apparel, with shipments worth a combined $5.6 billion in 2014, while the 28-member EU trade bloc imported U.S. textile products worth $1.1 billion and apparel valued at $580 million.
“Products such as textiles might be fully balanced, with potentially all trade receiving duty-free treatment at entry into force,” according to the leaked documents.
But the papers later seem to contradict that statement. For example, in the basket of categories facing a seven-year phaseout of tariffs, the U.S. offer purportedly included 27 lines for textiles. Overall, some 5.5 percent of tariff lines were included in a seven-year phaseout, while the EU offer covered about 3.8 percent, according to the papers.