The U.S. and EU have agreed to launch negotiations on what would be the world’s largest free trade deal. Such an agreement would be the basis for the creation of an economic NATO and would include trade in goods, services and investment, as well as cover intellectual property rights. There are concerns that the U.S. could use these talks to push the EU to loosen its restrictions on genetically modified crops and foods. In addition, the deal might serve as a backdoor means to implement ACTA which was rejected by the European Parliament last year. A U.S.-EU Transatlantic trade agreement is seen as a way of countering China’s growing power and is the foundation for a new global economic order.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama officially announced that the U.S. would launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union (EU). A joint statement issued by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and U.S. President Obama explained that, “Through this negotiation, the United States and the European Union will have the opportunity not only to expand trade and investment across the Atlantic, but also to contribute to the development of global rules that can strengthen the multilateral trading system.” In a separate speech, European Commission President Barroso also emphasized that, “A future deal between the world’s two most important economic powers will be a game-changer. Together, we will form the largest free trade zone in the world. So this negotiation will set the standard – not only for our future bilateral trade and investment, including regulatory issues, but also for the development of global trade rules.”
The decision to pursue a free trade deal was based on the recommendations put forth by the High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth which was created to deepen U.S.-EU economic integration. In their final report, they called on leaders from both sides to, “initiate as soon as possible the formal domestic procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a comprehensive trade and investment agreement.” According to U.S. and EU officials, talks could start in June with the hopes of completing a deal by the end of 2014. The proposed trade pact would include removing import tariffs, dismantling hurdles to trade in goods, services, and investment, as well as harmonizing regulations and standards. It would also cover intellectual property protection and enforcement. This could be used as an opportunity for a backdoor implementation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). It was a result of public pressure associated with risks to internet freedom and privacy which lead to ACTA being rejected by the European Parliament in July of 2012. There have already been attempts to use Canada-EU trade negotiations to sneak in parts of ACTA.
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch Director, Lori Wallach cautioned how U.S.-EU talks, “are aimed at eliminating a list of what multinational corporations call ‘trade irritants’ but the rest of us know as strong food safety, environmental and health safeguards.” She went on to say, “European firms are targeting aspects of the U.S. financial reregulation regime, our stronger drug and medical device safety and testing standards and more.” Wallach further added, “U.S. firms want Europe to gut their superior chemical regulation regime, their tougher food safety rules and labeling of genetically modified foods.” In a press release, Earth Open Source warned that, “An EU-U.S. free trade deal would obliterate EU safeguards for health and the environment with regard to genetically modified (GM) crops and foods.” Research Director Claire Robinson pointed out, “If the new trade agreement goes through, it will be illegal under World Trade Organisation rules for the EU to have a stronger regulatory system for GMOs than the U.S. system.” This is disturbing considering that in many cases, GM foods in the U.S. do not require any special regulatory oversight or safety tests.
Overshadowed by the proposed U.S.-EU trade deal are ongoing Canada-EU negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Despite talks being in their final stages, both sides still have some important gaps to be bridged before a deal can be reached. Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star acknowledged that, “Europe’s real interest in negotiating a trade deal with Ottawa was to demonstrate to the Americans that a trans-Atlantic free trade pact was possible.” He noted, “EU negotiators will be even more reluctant to make concessions to Canada for fear of weakening their bargaining hand with the Americans.” Walkom argued that, “Canada is under more pressure to make a deal while Europe is under less.” He concluded that. “A Canada-EU deal seems inevitable. But now, with America in the mix, the terms for Canada may be even less favorable than expected.” The Globe and Mail recently reported that the EU is demanding additional concessions from Canada before any agreement can be signed. In order to wrap things up, a desperate Canada may be willing to give up even more. This was a bad deal from the start and it would be in their best interest to just walk away from CETA.
In the coming months, you can expect the anti-corporate globalization movement on both sides of the Atlantic to mobilize against the U.S.-EU trade agreement. It is big business and financial institutions who are pushing this deregulation agenda which threatens health, environmental and food safety standards. Just like NAFTA, the proposed U.S.-EU trade deal is also likely to include an investor-state dispute process which would give corporations the right to challenge government policies that restrict their profits. A trade agreement between the U.S. and EU is a building block for a new global trading system. If you combine NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a U.S,-EU Transatlantic trade deal, you have the makings for a global free trade area.
Related articles by Dana Gabriel:
Deepening the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade Partnership
Growing Opposition to the Canada-EU Trade Agreement
Advancing the Transatlantic Agenda
From NAFTA to CETA: Canada-EU Deep Economic Integration
Dana Gabriel is an activist and independent researcher. He writes about trade, globalization, sovereignty, security, as well as other issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Visit his blog at Be Your Own Leader
The European Commission has withdrawn its request to review ACTA’s compatibility with the EU law in the European Court of Justice. The move virtually ensures the treaty will never be adopted in the Union.
The European Comission’s move was reported by MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats alliance.
“I welcome this news from the Commission today,” said S&D Euro MP David Martin, the author of the parliamentary report on ACTA, as cited by The Register. “The EU cannot be party to an agreement without European Parliament ratification. MEPs overwhelmingly rejected ACTA in July and I am pleased that the Commission has acknowledged this is the end of the road for ACTA in the EU thanks to the Parliament.”
The European Commission made the appeal to the court in July, after ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) had received a knockout blow from the European Parliament. At the time MEPs roundly rejected the treaty with 478 votes against, and only 39 in favour.
Even before that, in February this year the adoption of ACTA was suspended due to mass protests against it, with critics slamming the agreement for its breaches of human rights, that it would protect copyright at the expense of freedom of speech on the Internet.
Intended as a global treaty, ACTA started to be developed in 2007 as a means to target copyright and patent violations in a wide range of industries. ACTA has been signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, South Korea and 22 EU member states.
Of all those countries, only Japan has ratified it so far. The treaty will come into force for the countries which ratified it when at least 5 more pass the relevant legislation.
The European Parliament has rejected ACTA, a controversial trade agreement, which was widely criticized over its likely assault on internet freedoms. Supporters of the treaty suggested postponing the crucial voting at the Parliament plenary on Wednesday, but members of the parliament decided not to delay the decision any further. MEPs voted overwhelmingly against ACTA, with 478 votes against and only 39 in favor of it. There were 146 abstentions.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was dealt a major blow on April 12 when MEP David Martin, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the agreement and member of the Committee responsible for delivering the recommendation [doc] to European Parliament to adopt or reject the agreement, announced that he would be recommending a “no” vote. While the prospects of the European Parliament ratifying the agreement seems to have fortunately lessened, it does not mean that it’s a fait accompli that the European Parliament will reject ACTA. As we’ve noted before, ACTA is a plurilateral agreement designed to broaden and extend existing intellectual property enforcement laws to the Internet. It was negotiated in secret by a handful of countries, in a process that intentionally bypassed the checks and balances of existing international IP norm-setting bodies without any meaningful input from national parliaments, policymakers, or their citizens. In our second post on the ACTA State of Play, we’ll look at what’s happening in Europe and why we should all be keeping a close eye on what’s happening in Brussels. (For those interested in US developments, please see our previous post here).
While the EU and 22 of its 27 member states signed ACTA in January, the European Parliament must vote to adopt it for it to become part of European Union law. A complex process is underway involving five European Parliamentary committees. The first step involves four committees: the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), and the Development Committee (DEVE). Each must each review ACTA according to their Committee’s particular subject matter expertise, and deliver an opinion to the fifth and lead Committee, the International Trade Committee (INTA).
The INTA Committee plays the key role of recommending ACTA’s adoption or rejection to European Parliament. While INTA’s opinion is highly influential, it is not binding. The final step in the ratification process is a plenary vote of the Members of European Parliament. MEPs must decide whether to adopt or reject ACTA in its entirety; no amendments are allowed. The vote is currently scheduled for early July, but it may occur later. Here are two great infographics from the European Parliament and from French organizations La Quadrature du Net and Owni.eu which illustrate the whole process.
Apart from this process at the EU level, individual EU member states must decide whether or not to ratify ACTA. This is because the agreement requires countries to put in place broader criminal sanctions for those who infringe IP, and for those who aid and abet them. EU law is not harmonized in relation to criminal penalties for IP infringement. Criminal laws are within the exclusive legislative power of the individual EU member states and so they must ratify ACTA for those provisions to be given effect. Five member states have now suspended ratification of ACTA (Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Bulgaria) and Germany has said that it will wait to see how the European Parliament votes before deciding to ratify.
There are many moving pieces in this puzzle and they each exert different levels of influence on the European Parliament’s vote. The European Commission referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice, the highest court in Europe, on February 22 for an opinion on its compliance with EU law. The European Parliament’s INTA Committee, at the instigation of MEP David Martin, the current Rapporteur of ACTA within the European Parliament, considered but rejected its own referral of ACTA to the European Court of Justice in March. If this had gone ahead, it would have delayed the European Parliament’s plenary vote beyond July. The European Data Protection Supervisor issued an opinion [pdf] on the European Parliament’s proposed accession to ACTA on April 24 that obliquely criticized ACTA by noting that it permits measures for indiscriminate monitoring of communications that would be disproportionate for small scale infringements. Specifically, it includes voluntary cooperative enforcement measures that would permit ISPs to process personal data beyond what is permitted under EU law, and lacks the necessary limitations and safeguards to protect EU citizens’ personal data under EU law.
On April 12, the Rapporteur of ACTA within the European Parliament, MEP David Martin of the INTA Committee, announced that he would be recommending that the European Parliament vote no on ACTA, but suggested that the Commission could negotiate an alternative proposal. His recommendation concluded that:
Your rapporteur therefore recommends that the European Parliament declines to give consent to ACTA. In doing so, it is important to note that increased IP rights protection for European producers trading in the global marketplace is of high importance. Following the expected revision of relevant EU directives, your rapporteur hopes the European Commission will therefore come forward with new proposals for protecting IP.
While this should indeed be seen as a major blow to the prospects of a speedy ratification by the European Parliament and a rebuke to the European Commission which took the lead in negotiating ACTA for the EU, it does not mean that ACTA is dead in the EU.
Last week, several of the four committees involved in the first step of the process were scheduled to publish their opinions and deliver them to the INTA committee. These opinions are likely to be heavily influenced by the appointed Rapporteur for each committee. They are reportedly equally divided. Two of the four Rapporteurs oppose ACTA and two are strong supporters. EDRi has posted a draft opinion of the influential Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) rapporteur, MEP Marielle Gallo, who is a strong ACTA supporter. She had previously been proposing a fast vote on her draft opinion within JURI, but on April 26, she pushed instead for JURI to postpone its vote on the opinion. This seems like a further delaying tactic by ACTA supporters to slow down the process within the European Parliament until they’ve got the numbers for a yes vote while the fierce lobbying campaign continues apace in Brussels.
Everything comes down to how MEPs vote in the Parliamentary plenary vote. MEPs in European Parliament are members of political parties, and analysts in Europe are now trying to tabulate how the political party groups will vote on ACTA. As Joe McNamee, the Brussels-based Advocacy Co-ordinator for European Digital Rights noted in an insightful piece last week, the numbers look closer than you might think: 52.5% of the Parliament opposed to ACTA, to 47.5% in favor, if you extrapolate from the views of the Rapporteurs of the four committees involved in the first ratification step:
To put it in another way, if just 20 MEPs have their minds changed as a result of the massive lobbying campaign currently underway and organised by the European Commission and big business interests, then ACTA will be adopted. The situation becomes even more precarious when we consider that it often happens that more than 5% of MEPs do not vote (either absent or abstaining) meaning that the chances of the current tiny majority being sufficient are more a matter of luck than anything else.
We are at a stage where every single vote in the European Parliament is of huge value. If the pro-ACTA message of the rapporteurs in the Legal Affairs and (shockingly) the Development Committee prevail, this will create a new momentum and will be used to “prove” that ACTA is a legitimate proposal.
Assuming that the anti-democratic elements in the European Parliament will not be allowed to have their way, there are two possible outcomes. The first is the anti-ACTA campaign will be anesthetised by complacency – assuming victory, citizens will stop contacting Parliamentarians, will not take part in demonstrations and will reassure MEPs that our attention span is so short that we can be ignored on ACTA, that we can be ignored on the upcoming IPRED Directive, that we can be ignored on the upcoming Data Retention Directive. And we reassure our opponents that no future democratic movement will be able to sustain a campaign as long as needed. We lose. Europe loses.
Or we do our duty for European democracy and maintain our pressure right up until the vote. And then we win. And Europe wins.
The future of ACTA as an international agreement will be decided in Europe. While recent media reports have led many people to conclude that ACTA is dead, this is unfortunately not true. Worse, it’s quite a dangerous misconception to have rebounding through the zeitgeist at a time when we need every possible vote in the European Parliament for ACTA to be rejected in July. Citizens in Europe and elsewhere must now clearly and loudly voice our concerns about this agreement to our elected representatives to counter-balance the content industry lobbyists that are hard at work in Brussels shoring-up support for ACTA. Now is the time to make your views heard. If you’re in the EU, contact your MEPs and urge them to vote no on ACTA.
More information on how to have your views heard is at the following resources:
EDRI’s ACTA campaign page
La Quadrature du Net’s ACTA campaign page