A long way to go for TTIP negotiations

5:08 min

After a lull in negotiations on the TTIP trade agreement between the EU and the US, speed is expected to pick up again next year.

The Swedish EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has been nominated to take over the trade portfolio at the European Union and as such, she will be responsible for negotiating the transatlantic trade agreement with the US on the behalf of the EU.

At a seminar on the geopolitical aspects of TTIP, held at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs in Stockholm this week, it was apparent that there is still a long way to go before the agreement, or TTIP as it is known, is anywhere near being settled.

Representing an American perspective at the seminar, was professor Daniel Hamilton, from the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He referred to the current state in the negotiations as "political winter".

By next year, the new EU commission has settled in, as well as the US Senate, where a third of the seats are up for election this November. And Daniel Hamilton is hopeful that the negotiations can move forward. If nothing else, because Europe and the US need the agreement for geopolitical reasons.

He thinks the agreement will strengthen the EU and the US internally, but also their relationship to each other, as well as increasing the confidence to stand up internationally for the standards already reached.

But standards is one of the things that worries critics of the TTIP in Europe. They fear that the EU would have to lower its standards on issues regarding health and safety, the environment and on social legislation such as parental leave, in order to meet the American standards. But, said Daniel Hamilton, this is not the case.

"California is the global standards setter in many issues of environmental legislation. So the idea that somehow the United States is lower than the EU is just wrong. One has to look more closely at each issue," he said.

"TTIP is not a negotiation to change somebody's standards to the other standard. It is not about lowering standards, it is how do you align them or recognise that each has a high enough standard so that together we can uphold global standards," he said.

According to Daniel Hamilton, it is not about whether we are going to have American standards or European standards, it is whether we are all going to have Chinese standards.

Meanwhile, representing a European viewpoint, Björn Fägersten, research fellow at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, says the main the difference between the American and the EU perspective lies elsewhere.

"I don't think is is such a big question in the US actually, they focus more on the Pacific trade arrangement. In Europe I think it has been seen as the positive news coming out of the EU over the last years regarding the economy. However, especially after the Snowden affair, it is increasingly sensitive. And today I think, in order to be successful, you will have to negotiate TTIP together with other things that the Europeans find important, like data protection for example," he said.

This is especially true, says Fägersten, when you consider that the European parliament will have a say on the agreement. And looking ahead, the biggest challenge that he sees to an agreement, is getting the political support in europe.

"It is one thing to have technocrats negotiating. It is quite another things to have the parliaments to agree on this. In the EU it is going to be a mixed agreement, so both the European Parliament and the national parliaments have to accept it," he said. 

"One of the main hurdles is not exactly what is in TTIP, but rather that in many national parliaments in Europe it's so sentitive with anything coming from the EU circles, because there is a problem with legitimacy and political will."

Nevertheless Björn Fägersten does believe there will be an agreement - or perhaps several. And in this, Daniel Hamilton agrees.

"One shouldn't anticipate one signed document. I believe we will have a package that will be approved, and then we'll have a new process that will continue. So it's not one big trade agreement in the traditional sense, it is something very different," he said.

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