U.S. Ambassador Gardner: “if the European Parliament wants a better ISDS, we agree !”

After having concluded the conference “Transatlantic leadership: challenges and opportunities“, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Anthony L. Gardner gave an interview to La Voix du Collège and the Alumni association.

The Ambassador giving a speech at the College of Europe
The Ambassador giving a speech at the College of Europe

La Voix du Collège: There is popular distrust against TTIP in Europe. The EU has tried to be more transparent about the negotiations in order to reassure the public and kill certain myths about the TTIP. What will the US do to reassure the public? Is the US also going to follow the path of transparency?

Ambassador Gardner: It’s a good question and it’s a question that is often asked. I get asked about transparency in every speech I give about TTIP. And it’s a big issue for a good reason: this agreement is the most ambitious agreement we have ever tried to sign and the people feel it, partly because we are trying to not just eliminate tariffs and not just liberalize trade and services with market access issues, but we try to deal with things that touch more closely to people’s core issues and that’s standards.
So I completely understand why people want transparency in these negotiations. Our perspective is a bit different. Our perspective is that these are the most transparent negotiations ever held and there are many examples that I can cite here. For example, in every round, we have had a half day carved out for any company, not only companies, but also NGOs, to come express their concerns – it can be environmental, social – all can come and express their concerns and that’s important.
In the United States, we have repeated sessions with Congressmen–over a thousand I think I have seen recently. We have hundreds of people who are credited experts, who from various parts of society, not just businesses, have been consulted throughout the process..
In addition to that, you will see on the websites of the USTR, a massive amount of information, probably more than what anyone can digest, about what we are trying to achieve, and chapter by chapter, what it is that we are seeking during these negotiations. And in addition to that, we have consolidated texts, which are available to members of trade committee and now to members of certain governments or ministers of trade that are available in certain reading rooms.
So we’ve gone further than we have ever gone before. Some people feel that it’s not enough, I understand it and we are trying to think of ways in which we can improve transparency, but I will leave you with this. I believe that it is an unfair criticism to say that these are opaque negotiations because one thing it is not, is opaque.

French Trade Minister said recently that the US were not serious in TTIP discussions, the TPP signature may increase this trend, are we in a dead end?

No. I know who you are referring to, it’s one of the junior ministers in the the French government and that is not the position of the French government at all. We have seen at many times the French government reiterate a strong support for these negotiations. By the way, that support has been by the way expressed and reiterated across all the 28 Member States and by the Commission obviously, and in the European Council. So no, we are not at a dead end. We have a lot of work to do. That’s a fair statement. Are we behind, yes, we are behind were we should be. It is not useful to point fingers as to why. We are convinced first that this deal is doable. And we have time to get a deal done before January 20, 2017, which is the last day of the mandate of President Obama administration’s term

How are the coming elections affecting the negotiations and what if the deal is not concluded at time?

It’s impossible to foresee. We don’t know who is going to win. Certainly, some of the candidates that are running today will want to continue with these negotiations if we don’t wrap them up by January 20th 2017… TTIP is not figuring in the debates in this presidential campaign. The TPP, the Pacific one, has figured in the debates, and there are a variety of views, some are against and some are for, but I don’t think the TTIP will be a major issue of discussion in these debates…

How would a possible Brexit affect the negotiation?

I’m relatively, prudently confident that when the question is put to the British people next year, the answer would be a vote to stay in. I think one of the arguments made for the “in” campaign is that the UK has a stronger negotiating leverage in a TTIP negotiation if it is as part of the larger union. Those who are campaigning to leave believe that they can get a good or better deal if they leave the European Union. I think we were quite outspoken in saying first, we are in favor of a strong UK in a strong EU and the UK being a member of a strong EU will give it leverage to reach an ambitious trade agreement. So I can’t speculate on what happens if there is a “no” vote, a vote to leave, on these negotiations.

In July, the European parliament backed the TTIP but rejected the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, what are your views on this?

You use the word reject. There was a fear that ISDS would be rejected in its totality, but the resolution actually said: “we don’t reject, we want a better ISDS”… And you know what ? We agree ! We had the same process a few years ago, three years of consultations we went through, not dissimilar to the consultation process in the EU. And the result of that consultation in the United States was a model bilateral investment treaty that includes what we thought is a reformed investor state dispute settlement
We supported the Commission’s analysis. We think that the text of the resolution in the European parliament gives us room to agree with the Commission on a reform of the ISDS. I don’t know what it will look like because we haven’t yet received the textual proposal from the Commission, but we are about to receive it. I think there are a lot of ideas that we can work with; they are very similar to ideas that we put forward.. I’m relatively optimistic that this is doable.

The TTIP debate in Europe is focused on transparency, environmental and food security issues, do you understand these concerns?

I absolutely understand these concerns. Again, It’s something that is raised every speech I gave. I’ve given roughly seventy of them. Transparency is usually the first one and food security and safety is another. I absolutely understand. People are concerned and they should be. They don’t want to reduce their quality of life, they don’t want to eat foods that they just reject, whether it is hormones treated beef or whatever, there’s a long list. But we try to explain them several things. First, standards are very hard to generalize about and I have done a fair amount of research into this and have looked at a lot of papers from experts. You cannot generalize that on one side of the Atlantic the standards for food safety are higher than in the United States. In some cases they are, in some cases they aren’t. There’s a fantastic paper recently done by four experts on the issue–two Europeans, two Americans–and they have an annex at the back of this report, and they list where Europe is stricter and where the US is stricter. And it is all over the place, so you cannot generalize. The second thing is that nothing we are doing in TTIP is going to force European consumers, for example, to eat genetically modified food. It is not part of this agreement. It couldn’t be. Even if we wanted to, it couldn’t be, it would be voted down, it would be crazy! Peoples’ fears I think in this respect are misplaced, I understand them but they are just simply misplaced.

This TTIP is actually a very technical agreement and one could perhaps even be surprised that the popular attention to such a technical agreement and the fears that are raised. In your view, how is it possible that something that is actually for specialized trade lawyers have come to the public and raised such fears?

Isn’t it remarkable? It is probably unique that a highly technical trade agreement has become the subject of a petition, it has gotten about three million signatures, marches of hundred and fifty thousands people recently in Berlin [two hundreds and fifty according to the organizers]. Absolutely remarkable. Mostly in a few member states but not just in a few; they have also been more generalized. And I have given a lot of thought about why? Why? It’s not an easy question; I’ll give you my answers to that. First, it’s not really about this deal, It’s about other things, for example about globalization, fears of globalization, and to be more specific, that this agreement is in fact a vote to speed up globalization, when in fact it is no such thing. And I say this at the front of my speeches. Globalization is happening today, whether you like it or not, you may hate it, it’s not a choice. The only choice, I think, is whether through free trade agreements, we can try to shape the process of globalization in a way better suited to our standards and values. I am not saying that everybody will buy that argument, but some people say, “OK I understand it.”. They may not be happy with greater competition but it’s going to happen regardless of the free trade agreement or not. And second, you have been talking about fears, fears of big projects led by Brussels, led by governments. Let’s face it, people are cynical, they have been promised many things. Often they haven’t been delivered. They see here a big trade agreement, being sold as very ambitious and they say “woh, we want to protect what we have and what we know, we don’t want something revolutionary”. So that’s why in my speeches, I now say this is not about revolution, it’s about evolution, about building on a really intense Transatlantic trade partnership.

What can the students do to study or make some research in the United States?

Institutions like this play a fundamental role. And I am not just saying this because I am sitting here in the College of Europe, but I actually believe it. It is probably the most lasting thing that we can do, those of us who are now in government is to encourage people to study our systems of government. Twenty years ago, when I was in the US government, the knowledge of the EU was really not very great, let’s put it that way. . I’m struck today, twenty years later, that there are people in the US government who get it, who understand the importance of the EU. And here in Europe, I’m sure that there are many more people who understand the United States but there’s still a need for research as you say, on both sides of the Atlantic, which is why we have announced today a new program to fund and encourage people to study various topics and we are starting with a topic, quite appropriately, data privacy, where there is so much misunderstanding, so many mischaracterizations. I’ve mentioned in my speech, many people tell me “you in the United States you don’t care about data privacy, you consider it as a commodity. You buy and you sell to the highest bidder.” but it is not true. I have witnessed in the United States a huge amount anxiety, concern, about how we can promote trade and at the same time respecting privacy in our own sphere. That’s why we have chosen this particular subject to improve understanding of how we have gone about this difficult issue —privacy— in different ways. Here, you have a charter of fundamental rights, basically a single document that enshrines those principles. . In the US, we don’t have it in one neatly packaged document. We have a patchwork of different privacy laws, consumer privacy, we have in the Constitution an article on searches and seizures, and we have regulations in various parts of the government, of the federal trade commission that’s enforcing data privacy rules. We have it in many places.. What we want to do is to encourage researchers to understand how we address these issues in different ways.

Interview conducted by Eleonora WAKTÄRE & Nathan de ARRIBA-SELLIER

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