A trade agreement with the US is arguably one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the EU

A trade agreement with the US is arguably one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the EU

On one hand its economic potential is significant, on the other it should not be achieved at the cost of existing standards. Above all, the process should be as transparent as possible.

These were the key elements in a conference organised by the Malta Business Bureau and the European Parliament Information Office in Malta. The event saw Maltese MEPs and representatives of Maltese businesses discuss the possible impacts of an agreement on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US.

The negotiations, which in July reached their tenth round, are now in an advanced stage. A European Parliament Resolution has forcefully identified priorities and elements of concern to the EU. One of these was the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), on which the European Commission issued new proposals.

“I consider the latest round as ultimately positive”, said MEP Roberta Metsola, “although there is a realisation that agreement will not be concluded in 2015”. She explained that irrespective of TTIP what is currently of member state competence will remain so. “My position is that as long as there is proper coverage for SMEs and for their concerns, I remain in favour”.

“Transparency concerns are quite legitimate – lack of information hinders proper decision-making”, said MEP Miriam Dalli. The European Parliament has emphasised this concern in its resolution. Dalli stressed that any agremeent should not lead to any lowering of standards. She referred to the recent cases where despite the high environment-related standards on paper in Europe, enforcement was somewhat lacking.

MEP Alfred Sant described TTIP as an agreement that is fuelled by multinationals and built on a neoliberal approach to favour an oligopoly of a few big players. “In this way they can create economies of scale and be more competitive globally”, he said. “Still, if consumers can get better and cheaper goods, there is an element that is beneficial”.

“As things stand today, I would abstain on the decision to go ahead with TTIP”, Sant said.

The call for more transparency was made by most speakers. Currently, MEPs can only view the negotiating texts physically in a room set up for this purpose. Yet, in comparison with previous trade agreements the discussion has taken off relatively early.

As pointed out by MEP Metsola, “Previously nobody discussed a trade agreement with a third country before it was signed. This is something the EP ought to be given credit for”.

A separate panel with representatives of different business sectors focused on more specific issues that could possibly impact operations in their respective fields. The potential dynamics vary from one sector to another.

David Sammut, Director of International Economic Relations within the Economic Policy Department at the Ministry of Finance, gave an overview of issues that the government is keeping a particular eye on during discussions with other EU member states.

Kyle Borg, Vice-President of the MBB, referred to existing hurdles that hinder the trans-Atlantic economy from making the best out of its huge market potential. Efforts to reduce duplication of certain procedures would certainly help businesses operating in both markets.

The event, organised in collaboration with Enterprise Europe Network, follows on a series of sector-specific consultation meetings with key industrial actors and business representatives held earlier this year. A report reflecting the findings of this process will be published later this year.