U.S., EU Trade Talks Navigate Doubts, Snooping Concerns

The French government expressed willingness to exercise its veto against any agreement that does not protect the country’s film and music industry. France demanded that state support for its film and television industry be excluded from the talks. Subsidies for filmmakers and other artists are currently allowed under the “cultural exception” to international trade rules for the sake of preserving national and local culture.

Following 12 hours of talks in June, the EU agreed to exclude audio-visual services from the initial negotiations, but the European Commission, the region’s trade representative, will be able to make recommendations on additional negotiations.

Although opposition so far has been stronger on the European side, American groups have started to voice concern about the trade agreement.

American and European civil society and union groups sent a letter to President Obama on Monday warning him about the dangers of such an agreement.

“A transatlantic agreement that is little more than a vehicle to facilitate deregulation would not only threaten to weaken critical consumer and environmental safeguards, but also conflict with the democratic principle that those living with the results of regulatory standards must be able to set those standards through the democratic process, even when doing so results in divergent standards that businesses may find inconvenient,” the letter said. “Thus, we are highly skeptical that an agreement focused on regulatory ‘harmonization’ will serve consumer interests, workers’ rights, the environment, and other areas of public interest. Rather, it could lead to lower standards and regulatory ceilings instead of floors.”

Top Senate trade officials have warned they would hold any free-trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU to rigorous demands that American companies see clear benefits. Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that European nations would have to back off from some agricultural restrictions and other regulatory issues to move the negotiations forward.

“With the American people still reeling from the recent recession, a strong and aggressive trade agenda would provide a real opportunity for our job creators, our farmers and our workers,” Hatch said. “A comprehensive trade agreement with our European allies could stimulate economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic while creating tremendous new export opportunities for U.S. workers.”

Hatch expressed his approval of the trade deal talks and cautioned that “it ultimately won’t matter unless these negotiations can be concluded and enacted into law.”

While the president and his trade representative do the actual negotiating, Congress has to approve any agreement for it to come into effect. That means the Obama administration will not have an easy time concluding the TTIP unless Congress grants the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which is more commonly known as “fast-track authority.” Under fast-track authority, Congress will hold any trade agreement the president negotiates to an up or down vote. Members of Congress cannot offer amendments, which provides an assurance to trade partners that the package agreed to at the negotiating table will remain the same.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the Obama administration is “ready to engage” with lawmakers to win fast-track authority to push forward the trade agreement, The Hill reported.

“It is imperative that the president show some real leadership on trade and begin working with Congress in earnest to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Without TPA, it is very hard to see how we can negotiate a strong trade agreement with Europe,” Hatch said.