Monday, November 04, 2013

Merkel complicates the trans-Atlantic trade negotiations (Updated)

Since I'm no fan of the neoliberal vision for the the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), aka, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), I'm pleased to hear news of just about anything that might impede it.

This article about the instruction European business lobbyists have been giving to EU negotiators about what to include in the treaty would also be largely acceptable to the American lobbyists calling the shots on the US side of the negotiations (European Officials Consulted Business Leaders on Trade Pact New York Times 10/08/2013):

Internal documents obtained by The New York Times offer a window into the extent that European trade negotiators allow big business lobby groups to set the agenda. Among other things, the business community was seeking an active role in writing new regulations — the trans-Atlantic rules that might one day cover things like how poultry is cleaned and how trade secrets are protected.

"It's a bit like enshrining a right to lobby in the E.U./U.S. trade agreement — that is what it is about,” said Pia Eberhardt, who follows trade issues for the Corporate Europe Observatory, a nonprofit group in Brussels that is critical of corporate ties to government. ...

Although last year’s preliminary discussions could end up having little influence on any final trade pact, the documents offered some hints at the ripest targets for business executives — as well as insights into the officials’ responses. The auto industry was seen as being “first and foremost” among industrial sectors where a melding of regulations from Brussels and Washington made sense, according to an assessment last December by the European trade commission. And the issue of duplicative trans-Atlantic testing procedures was seen as particularly relevant for the pharmaceutical industry.

Among the proposals made last October by business groups that are still on the table is a regulatory oversight group that would have the authority to continue to ensure that any new or existing trans-Atlantic rules are compatible, even after trade negotiations formally conclude. Businesses and other stakeholders would be able to propose regulatory changes to the council.
In other words, what the lobbies are seeking to incorporate into the treaty is a kind of lowest-common-denominator function that would force the level of regulations down to the lower standard between the EU-US area and could override national regulations.

So it's encouraging to hear that German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel is making better protection against NSA spying an issue in the talks, as reported by Stefan Wagstyl et al, Berlin seeks privacy rules in EU-US trade pact Financial Times 11/03/2013.

Berlin’s unexpected move highlights the anger generated in Germany by claims that American intelligence eavesdropped on a wide range of targets, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. German officials are particularly angry that even when Berlin set up high-level talks with Washington over the extent of US surveillance activities earlier this summer, US officials failed to disclose the monitoring of Ms Merkel’s mobile phone.

Even though German officials insist the relationship with Washington remains strong, Ms Merkel’s position seems to be hardening in response to the public controversy and to concerns in German business about commercial spying. Industry representatives said they were aware that the question of data protection was being “politically discussed” in the context of the trade deal talks.

The proposed safeguards in the trade pact would not be catch-all privacy rules but specific regulations to protect companies worried about industrial espionage.
Merkel's Heinrich Brüning economic policies are awful. But if her personal pride leads her to do constructive things, in this case putting up impediments to TAFTA/TTIP, that's fine by me.

Leonid Bershidsky notes in Bershidsky on Europe: Merkel Turns on US Bloomberg View 11/04/2013:

Germany's volte-face [on the privacy issue and the trade negotiations] is a way to put pressure on the U.S., but also respond to voter sentiment. In Germany and across Europe, the idea of keeping user data on the continent is gaining popularity, with local telecoms offering cloud services as an alternative to U.S.-based ones. Deutsche Telekom even advertises "email made in Germany," saying it routes German internet traffic inside the country only.

Update: Big business on both sides of the Atlantic really want this deal. That's why I'm not too surprised by this story, Data protection ruled out of EU-US trade talks James Fontanella-Khan Financial Times 11/04/2013:

Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission and the EU’s top justice official, said that data protection was outside of the scope of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiation.

"The Commission'’s view and the position taken by all leaders at the recent European Council is clear: let’s not mix up the phone tapping issue with the ongoing trade talks,” Ms Reding told the Financial Times.

"Including data protection in the trade talks is like opening Pandora’s box. The EU is not ready to lower its own standards . . .  That is why the free trade agreement negotiations are not going to include privacy standards."

EU officials stressed that at present there are no common transatlantic standards on data protection and therefore they fear that finding a middle ground with the US would only lower overall EU privacy standards.
Translation: Big business lobbies in Europe really, really want this deal. Plus, who knows how much dirt the NSA has dug up on key EU officials to pressure them with?

But the official statement by Reding might not be all hot air:

Privacy advocates also warned that Germany’s call to include commercial spying rules in the trade talks would inadvertently favour tech groups such as Google and Facebook that have been trying to water down EU attempts to set tough standards.

Lobbyists for the US technology industry have long wanted to introduce data protection in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations as they believe it would give them a better chance to set less stringent standards than the ones currently proposed by the European Commission and EU lawmakers.

US companies argue that the current EU legislation is unworkable because, they claim, it gives little legal certainty on how businesses can use individuals’ personal information. They also want to scrap a clause that would limit the US government’s ability to obtain information on EU citizens without the European data protection watchdog’s consent.
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