It’s official. A deal on a transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) won’t be concluded during the remainder of the Barack Obama presidency. After the informal summit of EU trade ministers in Bratislava last week, both the ministers and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström admit it. The news shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone. It has been informally admitted for a long time and on the traditional questions in a trade agreement, market access, there are still very diverging opinions between the EU and the USA on many important topics. A halt in negotiations must not be a problem in itself. After all, the trade agreement with Canada, CETA took seven years to fully negotiate. But in order for negotiations to resume throughout the next US presidency and TTIP not to be buried, European politicians must learn a couple of lessons:
Be honest towards constituents!
Before the summit, the German social democrat leader and minister for the economy Sigmar Gabriel said that TTIP was dead. French president Francois Hollande also declared the negotiations dead. And French trade minister Matthias Fekl and Austrian minister for the economy Reinhold Mitterlehner even called for the negotiations to be stopped altogether. But in Bratislava, the only country that actually called for the end of negotiations was France. The rest of the 27 ministers asked for the negotiations to continue. In Bratislava, primarily socialist ministers repeated a dishonesty that they have been committing before. In meetings with their colleagues, they ask the Commission to continue negotiations but in media they slander the negotiations to win some cheap popularity, especially as elections loom closer. In the future, politicians must say the same thing in meeting rooms and in the media.
Communicate realistic expectations!
When negotiations for TTIP started, the Commission said the deal would be finished in 2014. That was obviously totally unachievable. Afterwards, the finish line was set in 2015 and now and artificial end date has been set at early 2017. Everyone knows trade negotiations take time and these complicated negotiations might take even longer. CETA, took seven years to negotiate, but was by many factors a much more easy agreement to negotiate as the EU was a more dominant negotiating partner. The next time, we must let things take time and not create artificial deadlines that cannot be achieved.
Be ready to compromise!
The expectations that politicians communicate must not only reflect that negotiations take time, they must also reflect that this is a complicated and agreement with dynamics that differ from every negotiation either side has ever had before. Both the American and the European negotiators are used to being at the driving seat in trade negotiations and mostly getting it their way against a smaller negotiating partner. This no longer applies and both sides need to be able to compromise in order to get a deal. In order to get real concessions from the US, on critical areas such as procurement, the EU must be able to compromise on other areas such as giving credible commitments on areas such as trade in services and data flows.
Don’t attempt a re-start!
In Bratislava, there were some calls for the negotiations to be re-started in order to avoid the current criticism from the anti-globalisation left and negotiating more openly. That won’t do any good. Firstly, it will throw the all progress made in the dustbin and this work contains a lot of areas where the EU and the US view things similarly. Re-starting negotiations will only dig up previously hot topics. But, most importantly it won’t serve the purpose of silencing the critics. The left only use the perceived secrecy of negotiations as a tool to attack the two things they really dislike – trade and the United States. They perceive the deal as a pig and if negotiations were to re-start in a different mood, they would argue that the only thing that re-starting negotiations would do is to put lipstick on the pig. These negotiations are already the most open trade negotiations that the EU has engaged in. The negotiating mandate and almost all EU proposed texts have been published. Still, this has done nothing to calm the narrow-minded ideological critique against TTIP.
TTIP is not dead. Negotiations will continue in good faith and we will eventually strike a deal that benefits both sides of the Atlantic. Negotiations will necessarily pause on January 20th when a new US president takes office. But when they resume, European politicians, primarily socialists, must talk about the negotiations in a different, more honest way. Not doing that, will risk European competitiveness and the new and better jobs that TTIP paves the way for. We have to be honest about that.