EU citizens must be better informed of the progress of EU-US talks on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), said MEPs from all political groups debating the issue with EU trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on Tuesday afternoon.
MEPs from the biggest groups acknowledged that a TTIP deal could benefit EU growth and jobs, but many others voiced concerns that it could erode not only the EU’s health, social and environmental standards, but also itsright to regulate, by giving investors the right to sue governments using an "Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) clause.
The proposed deal offers "great opportunities for citizens, consumers and companies. It is about the elimination of tariffs on lorries, cars, shoes or clothing, and not about reducing workers’ rights or lowering consumer protection standards", said Daniel Caspary (EPP, DE).
David Martin (UK), speaking for the S&D, said that the deal "could be the EU's last chance to set global standards". Otherwise, "China, Brazil, India will set them, putting our industries at a significant disadvantage". He warned the European Commission that his political group would not allow hormone-treated beef or GMOs to enter the EU market or let the ISDS clause became "a backroom door for a corporate power grab".
"The individual man or woman on both sides of the pond will have more choice of products, of a better standard and at cheaper prices, but we must ensure that the deal benefits businesses on both sides, irrespective of size", said Emma McClarkin (ECR, UK).
"We almost forget that there are also non-controversial opportunities, such as procurement", said Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL). "The US market should open up for our businesses" and “end explicit and implicit protectionism”, she insisted.
For the GUE/NGL group, Helmut Scholz (DE) argued that the negotiations should stop. "Considering the NSA spying scandal, there is no basis for a trade agreement if the US does not commit to protecting the data of European citizens or economic operators."
Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA, FR) said "What's up for negotiation here is how we deal with environment protection, health and social issues, public services, intellectual property, agriculture and food. These key issues are being negotiated behind closed doors (...) to dilute the European project in a big transatlantic market."
Tiziana Beghin (EFDD, IT) said "This is not just about tariffs, which are already low, but an instrument to remove 'obstacles' to free trade - such as the rights which our workers have acquired after generations of struggle; environmental regulations reducing pollution, food safety rules that protect us from hormone beef, GMOs, and dangerous chemicals."
"We don't really trust this", said non-attached member Matteo Salvini (IT, NI). "The United States are much cleverer than we are. They are protecting themselves, while Brussels is not even able to protect what we are producing in Europe".
EU trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht reassured MEPs that the talks were not about lowering EU standards but about "reducing the amount of red tape". He promised that the Commission would try to make the talks more “transparent”, by insisting the Council should make its negotiating mandate for the talks available to the public. So far, it has not achieved the majority necessary to do so.