Greenpeace Leaks U.S.-E.U. Trade Deal Documents

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LONDON — The Dutch chapter of the environmental activist group Greenpeace leaked on Monday a trove of documents from the talks over a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the United States.

[Sewell Chan| May 2, 2016 |The New York Times]

The documents, Greenpeace said, showed that American trade negotiators had pressed their European counterparts to loosen important environmental, consumer protection and other provisions.

But American and European trade officials, while they did not deny the validity of the materials, insisted on Monday that the documents — 248 pages, which Greenpeace said amounted to two-thirds of the latest negotiating text — merely represented negotiating positions, and that the criticisms by the environmental groups were off base.

But the disclosures and criticisms are unlikely to help speed up the trade talks, which already seemed to have little chance of making progress until after the United States elects its next president in November — if even then, given how rancorous an issue foreign trade has become in the American political debate.

The deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, would cover a huge range of goods and services between the world’s largest national economy and the world’s largest single market, spanning telecommunications, agricultural products, textiles, intellectual property, financial services and regulatory compatibility, among other topics.

Negotiations over the accord began in July 2013; and the latest round, the 13th, concluded on Friday in New York.

After decades of free-trade orthodoxy, there has been growing resistance to further liberalizing the movement of goods, services, capital and labor, fueled by fears that the benefits have flowed disproportionately to corporations, investors and well-educated workers, with the harm to less-educated workers outweighing the benefits for consumers. In the United States, the two leading contenders for the presidency, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton, have both expressed skepticism about trade deals.

Last month, Mr. Obama traveled to a manufacturing fair in Hanover, Germany, to join the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to urge the acceleration of negotiations. While expressing confidence that the talks would wrap up this year, Mr. Obama, who will leave office on Jan. 20, acknowledged that “time is not on our side.”

That was an implicit acknowledgment of the skepticism held by Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the race to succeed him, toward multilateral trade agreements.

So Monday’s revelations — like the Panama Papers, which disclosed vast amounts of information about the offshore wealth held by global elites — could further complicate efforts to finalize the sensitive trade talks, even if there did not appear to be big bombshells within the documents.

Perhaps the most sensitive issues are outlined in a document describing the “tactical state of play” on both sides. The document says, for example, that different approaches to animal testing “remain irreconcilable.” Many American-made skin cosmetics use ultraviolet filters, for which animal testing is used to assess safety; the European Union bans such testing on animals.

The Americans expressed “particular sensitivity” around tariffs on dairy, sugar and tobacco, while the Europeans wanted restrictions on wine labeling included in the accord.

Environmental groups focused on the ecological impact of the deal.

Greenpeace accused the American negotiators of trying to weaken environmental protection standards; of taking a laxer approach to product regulation than the Europeans; and of trying to give corporate lobbyists greater say in decision-making.

These leaked documents confirm what we have been saying for a long time: T.T.I.P. would put corporations at the center of policy making, to the detriment of environment and public health,” said Jorgo Riss, director of Greenpeace E.U. “We have known that the E.U. position was bad, now we see the U.S. position is even worse. A compromise between the two would be unacceptable.”

The Sierra Club, an American advocacy group that has offered a critique of trade deals, said it was dismayed that the words “climate change” were “not mentioned once in the 248 pages of text,” and said the documents showed that the United States was using exports of natural gas “as a bargaining chip to use to extract further commitments from the E.U. on services and investment.”

The Sierra Club said the documents showed that the Americans were proposing to allow corporations to “petition” for the repeal of a regulation if it was “more burdensome than necessary to achieve its objective,” given its impact on trade, and that the Europeans had proposed allowing certain environmental standards to be deemed “technical barriers to trade,” which would, perhaps, weaken labels that require the climate footprint of a product or service to be disclosed.

The group also warned that the text included trade rules that could be used against “buy local” programs that support local clean-energy jobs in nearly two dozen American states.

Although the leaks may have been embarrassing, officials on both sides tried to contain the fallout.

“The interpretations being given to these texts appear to be misleading at best and flat-out wrong at worst,” said Matthew McAlvanah, an assistant United States trade representative.

In a statement, he said the accord would “preserve, not undermine, our strong consumer, health, environmental standards, and position the U.S. and the E.U. to work together to push standards higher around the world.”

In a blog post, Cecilia Malmstrom, who as the European commissioner for trade is leading the 28-nation bloc’s negotiations with the United States, said that “many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup.”

Ms. Malmstrom said that the documents “ reflect each side’s negotiating position, nothing else.” Referring to genetically modified organisms, which are of particular concern to many European consumers, she added: “No E.U. trade agreement will ever lower our level of protection of consumers, or food safety, or of the environment. Trade agreements will not change our laws on G.M.O.s, or how to produce safe beef, or how to protect the environment.”

The documents were shared in advance with several European publications.

In Germany, the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the documents showed that the United States was threatening to prevent the easing of export controls on European cars in an attempt to compel Europe to buy more American agricultural products.

The French newspaper Le Monde, after reviewing the documents, said that the documents did not suggest that the Europeans were any more willing to make concessions than the Americans.

Read more at The New York Times

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