Arab Today, arab today muted us opposition to atlantic trade treaty
Last Updated : GMT 21:00:29
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Muted US opposition to Atlantic trade treaty

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Muted US opposition to Atlantic trade treaty

Washington - AFP

Europeans have met US-EU negotiations for an ambitious transatlantic free trade zone with a wave of open hostility, but in the United States, the opposition has been muted. Only a handful of opponents could be seen Wednesday as officials from both sides met this week for the fifth round of negotiations in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington. “The more we learn about this agreement the more we understand why the US and the EU are holding its contents so close to the vest," said Ilana Solomon of the environmental group Sierra Club. Like in Europe, fears have mounted among US activists over the broad scope of liberalization under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will cover rules on investment, trade, agriculture, health and the environment. The worries, though, have not carried far outside a small circle of civil society activists, even though the talks have been going on for nearly a year. "US media don't report much on trade generally, and haven't reported on the TTIP very much at all," said Celeste Drake, a trade specialist at the AFL-CIO labor union confederation. Activist attention is also divided, with more eyes on the more advanced Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. The proposed TPP trade deal, covering the United States and 11 other countries around the Pacific rim, raises more immediate concerns about how it will impact US companies and jobs. "The transatlantic treaty does not evoke much debate in the United States for the moment, notably because there is not as great a perception of risks as in the transpacific negotiations," a diplomatic source told AFP. US politicians are more active over the TPP, notably opposing a mechanism to give President Barack Obama "fast track" powers to accept a trade deal and to limit Congress's ability to intervene on specific issues. - Critics: TTIP 'corporate-driven' - The US business community has locked arms, meanwhile, to support the TTIP, putting pressure on politicians to get behind it. "We see tremendous potential as gains can be made for both sides in terms of lower input costs, lower consumer prices, more efficiency in eliminating duplicative requirements," said Marjorie Chorlins, the US Chamber of Commerce's vice president for Europe. But the powerful business lobby warns: There must be "concessions" on both sides, including opening US public procurement to foreign bidding, removing rules that give preference to local businesses. "Do I think some concessions will have to be made? Yes, that's what a negotiation is all about," said Chorlins. Still, it remains unclear whether US politicians want to stir up any debate over trade ahead of the November legislative elections. Many US voters on both sides of the political spectrum remain sore over NAFTA, the US-Canada-Mexico free trade pact launched two decades ago. Lori Wallach of the nongovernmental organization Public Citizen said that Republicans and some conservative Democrats -- especially those from farm states -- are mainly interested in seeing TTIP open the European market to US beef from cattle raised with hormones, and to US genetically modified crops and foods. "But it's not happening, and they would rather not worry about it" with the elections looming, Wallach said. In Europe, both issues are central to much of the public opposition to TTIP. Some US opponents to the pro-business agenda see TTIP could further their goals. Traditionally hostile to free trade deals, US labor unions and public interest groups see some advantage to holding the trade talks with Europe where their counterparts carry more weight, and can help advance their own agenda at home. "Because  of the strength of unions and NGOs in Europe, the TTIP could be the opportunity to reach the goal we've been pursuing for 20 years -- to do trade on a different model, getting rid of the US corporate-driven model," said the AFL-CIO's Drake. But such hopes since negotiations began last July were quickly dashed, according to Public Citizen's Wallach. The fact that the US wants to include in TTIP a contentious mechanism to protect investors "makes it very clear what their real agenda is." The main goal is to elevate corporate rights and powers at the expense of the public's interest, she says.

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