TTIP entering "heart of negotiations"
On 17-18 February, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman met for a political stocktaking exercise in Washington, D.C. on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Following the meeting, the EU Trade Commissioner said negotiations had made good progress and needed to step up a gear. The fourth round of talks will take place on 10–14 March 2014 in Brussels. The transatlantic negotiations will also be discussed when US President Obama visits Brussels for a summit on 26 March 2014. According to the EU Trade Commissioner the EU and the US are entering the ‘heart of negotiations’.
The TTIP is only peripherally about trade, as the tariff rates and quotas between the EU and the US are already very low. Instead, the main issue concerns regulatory convergence and so-called “non-tariff” barriers to trade. The aim is to establish new rules, standards and procedures in a number of areas that are not covered by other trade agreements. While it is too early to say if public education will be explicitly included in the TTIP, it is well known that education liberalisation is the goal of private companies looking to gain access to new “markets” and to maximize their profits. Even if education is not directly included in TTIP, still new rules being developed on domestic regulation could see educational requirements, professional accreditation standards and certification procedures challenged and threatened by US businesses.
In addition, the TTIP intends to include an Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. ISDS provisions have been controversial as they enable foreign investors to directly sue states before arbitration panels that tend to interpret disputes narrowly in favour of investors. One explanation is that ISDS instruments involve a relatively small number of arbitrators, who tend to have a strong relation to businesses. As a result of ISDS instruments, foreign investors are given legal rights to challenge any regulatory or policy measure of the host-state it feels violates its rights to access a market. The extraordinary cost of defending ISDS cases may deter governments from pursuing policy goals or taking regulatory measures that may have an impact on foreign investors. Previous ISDS cases raise serious concerns both about the ability of states to maintain domestic regulatory space, but also about the accountability of foreign investors for damage caused by investment operations. After considerable criticisms, the European Commission has announced that apublic consultation on provisions in EU-US trade deal on investment and investor-state dispute settlement will be published in early March 2014.