Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Questions (329)

Seán Kenny


329. Deputy Seán Kenny asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the position regarding the discussion between the EU and the US on a trade agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22397/14]

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Written answers (Question to Jobs)

Since the EU Council’s Decision in last June, to start negotiations with the US on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement, five negotiating rounds have taken place, the most recent one last week in the US. This Round covered extensive technical discussion on a broad range of issues including regulatory issues, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, government procurement, intellectual property rights, electronic commerce and telecommunications, environment, labour, small and medium-sized enterprises, and energy and raw materials. Some discussion has already started on the text of an agreement in relation to helping SMEs, technical barriers to trade and on competition.

Negotiations on TTIP can be summarised as covering three broad areas:

The first is market access, for goods, services, and public procurement. The first tariff offers, that is, the immediate or phased elimination of import tariffs on an extensive list of goods, were exchanged earlier this year, and I expect that, over the next few weeks there will be further work and negotiations to extend the range of tariff free trade that can take place once TTIP comes into effect. On services, I understand that the US tabled its first offer last week, and Member States will meet shortly to discuss what has been proposed by the U.S. The Commission expects that the EU’s first offer on services will be ready soon. Naturally there is an important level of confidentiality about the detail of both sides’ negotiating position, but I am hopeful that the greatest level of market access can be achieved for our services exporters and for those looking to penetrate the very large U.S. public procurement market.

The second area covered by the talks is “rules”, on trade facilitation (EU and US customs systems), state-owned enterprises (these should operate on commercial lines), on raw materials and energy (EU is looking for access to US oil/gas exports that are currently restricted), and on labour and the environment issues (no weakening of standards/protections). Coming to agreement on these will also serve to set the standards for other Free Trade Agreements with trading partners, reduce the complexity for small companies to comply many standards and market regulations, and regulate markets in an open and transparent manner.

The third most difficult and complex, but most important aspect of the negotiations, is reducing regulatory burdens, which will involve a multiplicity of sectoral regulations. In particular, areas of regulation such as financial services, environment, and health and public safety are important here, where there are legitimate but in many cases unfounded concerns about possible lowering of regulatory standards. In fact, both the EU and the US are equally committed to the retention of high standards that serve to protect consumers. The objective is to address differences in standards between our two economies while at all times maintaining the high levels of health, safety, environmental and other protection that is reflected in EU legislation.

Progress in respect of regulation, through harmonisation, mutual recognition or convergence, is the most important area, as the result of studies show it will yield the most net gains. The Commission’s impact assessment suggests that between two thirds and four fifths of the gains from a future agreement would come from cutting red tape and having more coordination between regulators. It is important to see this as a two part issue: the process of how regulation is enacted, and the sector specific solutions being negotiated. How regulations are made, needs to be more transparent, with regulators deepening relationships in order to address emerging issues together such as setting standards for new technologies. Regulators are also discussing how to reduce the cost of meeting existing standards without affecting the levels of protection afforded by them.

In addition, real progress on issues like car safety standards, ending double inspections at pharmaceutical and medical device plants, should, over time, reduce costs for business, regulators and consumers. Bringing about more regulatory convergence will help exporters and investors by reducing the cost of doing business across the Atlantic. It will make it easier for companies to comply with both US and EU laws at the same time at lower cost. This is important for SMEs that often don’t have the scale and resources to meet regulatory requirements on both sides of the Atlantic for the same products. Indeed, extending the scope for mutual recognition across many professional bodies, for example, would make it easier for professionals to source new job opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is important to note that while regulatory aspects are one of the main elements of the TTIP negotiations, there is nothing in the negotiations that should prevent or undermine the rights of both sides to regulate, and the level of regulatory protection on both sides, be it environment, food, consumer safety, will not be lessened.

As regards investment protection, the public consultation launched by the European Commission last March on the investment protection provisions of a future Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is still under way and will run until 6 July. All stakeholders have the opportunity to respond to this consultation, so that specific interests and concerns on investor protection and settlement of related disputes are well understood by the European Commission, and can be used to better define the EU’s approach to investor protection in the TTIP negotiations. The public consultation can be accessed at http://trade.ec.europa.eu/consultations.

Further information on the negotiations, including background documents, are available on the European Commission’s TTIP website: [http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip.

Last week, as in all previous negotiating rounds, both negotiating teams maintained close dialogue with a large number of representatives of the academic community, consumer groups, labour unions, environmental groups, farmers and employers. The negotiators met with over 300 representatives of civil society. These discussions and briefings have become an integral part of the EU’s negotiating approach to TTIP, both during each Round and also between each Round, so that as much information as possible can be given to interest groups.

I understand that the next negotiating round is scheduled to take place in July in Brussels.