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After years of negotiations, is TTIP dying a slow death?

John Macdougall / AFP | The shadow of a Greenpeace member is cast on a projection during a press conference where Greenpeace presented classified papers from ongoing US-EU trade talks on May 2, 2016.

The vast trade deal between the EU and the US known as TTIP has been through 13 rounds of negotiations spanning three years, but in the wake of Monday’s leaked documents by Greenpeace and grumblings from Europe, is the deal now dead in the water?


TTIP – or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – would create a vast free trade area that the European Commission claims could boost the EU’s economy by €119 billion a year, and the US’s by €95 billion.

But there has been stern opposition to the agreement from critics who argue that it would see consumer protection, environmental and health regulations severely eroded while handing unprecedented power to big businesses.

Those concerns were amplified Monday by a leak of a raft of classified documents by Greenpeace covering negotiating drafts and internal positions from the talks.

What is TTIP?

Greenpeace claimed the documents showed that TTIP “is threatening to have far reaching implications for the environment and the lives of more than 800 million citizens in the EU and US”.

Now, those fears seem to be filtering through to at least some of the EU’s leaders.

On Tuesday, French President François Hollande said his government would refuse to back the deal "at this stage" because his country opposes "unregulated free trade”.

"Never would we accept the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets," he said.

‘The beginning of the end’

Anti-TTIP campaigners have already proclaimed the deal as good as dead.

"The TTIP negotiations will never survive [the Greenpeace leak],” wrote John Hilary, the executive director of global poverty campaign group War on Want, in an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper.

“Now we can see the details for ourselves, and they are truly shocking. This is surely the beginning of the end for this much-hated deal."

But others are not so sure. What looks like irreconcilable differences between the EU and US may just be part of the long and winding road of negotiating such a high-level deal, they argue.

“The deal will happen. But what it will look like and when it will happen are far from certain,” Xenia Wickett, head of the US and the Americas programme at UK international affairs think tank Chatham House, told FRANCE 24.

France and others may feel they cannot accept the deal in its current form, but that is far from unusual for an agreement that is still very much in the negotiating stage, she says.

“The French, the Germans, the British all have different opinions and the EU has opinions that are different from the US. That’s why there are negotiations.”

As for the Greenpeace leaks, they will “undoubtedly be used as ammunition by those that oppose the deal” but “didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know” about its content, said Wickett.

Business groups also appear hopeful.

“We believe the deal is still going to happen, we have no doubt about that,” Emanuel Adam, head of policy and trade at BritishAmerican Business – a UK, US trade group – told FRANCE 24, even if “agreement in some areas can’t be reached”.

Slow progress

Nevertheless, the leaked documents revealed that, even after three years of talks, progress towards a deal remains painfully slow in several areas.

On cosmetics, for example, an internal note by EU trade negotiators states that the talks “remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited” and that “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable”.

There is also a ‘”lack of agreement between EU and US industries on specific issues” relating to engineering, says the note while complaining that “the US argued that they were not in a position to exchange anything with the EU” in relation to energy and raw materials.

Sébastien Jean, director of the CEPII, a French think tank on international economics, told FRANCE 24 that the main revelation revealed by the documents “was without doubt the relatively un-advanced state of the discussions”.

“A lot of work has been done in clarifying positions, but very little has been achieved in terms of finding a middle ground,” he says.

The problem for both the EU and the US is that, if they are to reach a deal, they may need to do so quickly. US President Barack Obama backs the deal but, with his term in office coming to an end in early 2017, there’s no guarantee his successor will be equally as supportive.

Wickett said it was now “very unlikely” that a deal would be struck before the end of Obama’s presidency though there was a “small chance” of some sort of interim agreement being reached.

The EU has vowed it will not compromise on its principles to reach a deal before Obama leaves office.

"If it is not good enough we just have to say 'Sorry but we have to put this on ice' and wait for the next administration,” said European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. “Obviously we lose time and momentum, but we cannot agree to TTIP-lite or something that's not good enough.”

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