Edward Bowles is a Member of the European Commission’s Advisory Group on TTIP, and writes this in a personal capacity.
For those of you familiar with Michael Punke’s book ‘The Revenant’ (or screen portrayal of the same), the central character, played by Leonardo di Caprio, is mauled terribly by a grizzly bear, betrayed by his appointed protector and left for dead deep in woodland in frozen conditions. Against all the odds, he not only survives, but makes it back to the camp, where upon he tracks down and kills his betrayer – at which point the similarities with TTIP should end.
TTIP was all but written off following the election of Donald Trump, having already endured severe mauling at the hands of anti-globalisation movements. But there are now signs that TTIP has crawled its way out of the woodland where it was left for dead, with quietly constructive noises seeping out of Washington and Berlin. The institutions in Brussels are playing down all talk of a renaissance at this stage, and the Advisory Group of which I am a nominal member has no plan to meet again. So far so sensible.
What’s the beef?
There were 15 rounds of negotiations, many inter-sessionals, and three and a half years of serious effort from officials. The huge waterfront of EU and US economic ties was covered in detail, but the results of all that activity were very mixed. Whilst agreement was reached on the elimination of 97% of all tariffs, the remaining 300 tariffs lines are the most sensitive. Under the regulatory co-operation pillar, there was not one single consolidated text. Whilst the Commission is keen to point out that there are a good many consolidated chapters, many still have significant sets of ‘brackets’, with only a handful (literally, five) being, more or less, fully consolidated.
The reason for this seemingly underwhelming state of affairs is due, in no small part, to the sheer scale and technical complexity of many of the issues under discussion at a regulator to regulator level, ranging from automobile safety, chemicals, medical devices, engineering, pesticides, SPS (e.g. the fabled chlorinated chickens), or cosmetics (yes, you read that correctly). But there were also many areas where fundamental differences of position bedevilled progress round after round, including some where the US did not ever get around to submitting a single position paper. A couple of examples where polarisation persisted throughout:
- Sunscreen UV filters – regarded as a chemical in one jurisdiction but a cosmetic in another, which became a seemingly unbridgeable issue;
- geographic indicators – the US regard the EU’s system as incompatible with their approach to trademarks. To be fair, the EU had already sold a free pass to the US in 1986, by allowing US produced wines to use certain ‘generic’ designations. Consequently, the US saw no reason to revisit that concession;
- tomato paste – a very sensitive issue, it seems;
- public procurement (Buy America) – too obvious to detail;
- …and let’s not talk about beef and hormones.