Taking TTIP seriously

The EU has concluded many free trade area agreements - at least three such agreements in recent times - that include substantive regulatory elements with developed countries, such as Korea, Canada, and Singapore. Negotiations with Japan on a free trade agreement, emphasising regulatory aspects, are ongoing. Yet TTIP has attracted a disproportionate amount of attention, or rather ‘heat’, without much light being shed on the substance. Highly principled ‘debates’ appear to pay little attention to facts, or mandates, or the declarations of leading negotiators, or indeed to other very similar agreements that never attracted such uncompromising ‘caricatures’. Hard-line positions often appear more as sound bites for specific voters rather than serious attempts to contribute to a mature EU policy debate. There are campaigns against certain aspects of TTIP that are not even included in the talks. Wild, if not irresponsible exaggerations about some aspects, not least on social media that then spill over into political debate, make it difficult to have a detached and serious assessment of TTIP and its potential for both partners. To some extent, this might well be an overreaction to the initial (over-)statements about the importance of TTIP. Negotiators and some stakeholders now feel compelled to publish useful Briefs on the many ‘myths’ and misunderstandings about TTIP.

One major reason for much of the excitement about the ‘wrongs’ of TTIP is the lack of detached and detailed analysis of the substance of the talks. Unfortunately, this substance is extremely broad; it also comprises many specific instances of technical regulation. Moreover, one has to appreciate regulation on both sides of the ocean, which is harder still. The EU approach to TTIP - publishing position papers and draft text proposals (unlike in the US) - has helped shift the discussions in the direction of substance, benefits and costs. It is exceedingly difficult, however, to appreciate such proposals without an independent analytical approach. CEPS and the Center for Transatlantic Relations (Washington DC) have now concluded a two-year detailed analytical project to do just that. We have covered eight horizontal aspects, ranging from horizontal regulatory cooperation, economic as well as negotiation aspects of technical barriers, to Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and levels of broad consumer protection. Seven sectorial chapters include, for example, agro-food products, services in general, telecoms and digital, energy, cars, public procurement, and chemicals. Much effort has gone into writing in teams, with at least one US and one EU author, adding clear value for both sides. We hope that our book will serve the European (and US) public interest by enhancing the understanding of TTIP and the quality of the discussion about its real implications.

This editorial is based on a new CEPS-Center for Transatlantic Relations report on TTIP that will be launched at a special event with Chief Negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero on September 9th at CEPS and on September 10th in Berlin, in the presence of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. 

Senior Research Fellow