In January 2019, EU Commission published negotiation mandates for two trade agreements with the USA. The negotiations are taking place under time pressure. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour this is not ideal for a trade agreement. In a now published AK Position Paper as well as a joint statement by the AK President and the ÖGB President, detailed comments have been made on some points of criticism.
The published negotiation mandates of the EU Commission with the USA include an agreement on conformity assessment as well as an agreement on the elimination of tariffs on industrial goods. The first agreement refers to the minimum requirements on product safety within the EU. The Commission argues that these conformity assessments should be mutually recognized within the framework of the agreements to safe costs for the economy. The elimination of tariffs concerns industrial, but not agricultural products. In February, the majority of the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade already voted in favour of the negotiation mandates; the plenary vote took place this week. The Commission wants to use the agreement to reinforce the trade relation with the USA and to create a positive agenda.
AK demands: Cancellation of the TTIP Mandate
The AK has voiced clear criticism regarding the negotiation mandates: the original TTIP mandate from 2013 still exists. Hence, it must be feared that the two mandates are only a small step towards a more comprehensive trade and investment agreement with the USA. The AK therefore demands the immediate revocation of the TTIP Mandate so that a final line can be drawn under the failed negotiations.
Time pressure and unclear negotiation goals are bad prerequisites
The mandates of the Commission mainly focus on the two agreements on reducing tariffs and the conformity assessment. However, the USA aim at a broad agreement, which among other would also include the elimination of tariffs on agricultural products. It is also not clear, whether the mandates include cars and car parts. The reason given by the Commission for the speedy negotiations is time pressure. So far, the threats by the US Government to impose tariffs on cars and car parts have been no more cancelled than the US tariffs on steel and aluminium. Hence, from the AK’s point of view it is therefore unclear how under these conditions it should be possible to hold negotiations at eye level.
Conformity assessment: Extent of the scope of negotiations completely open
From the AK’s point of view, the mutual recognition of standards runs the risk that important regulations with regard to the protection of workers, environment, data, health and consumers as well as those concerning the financial sector could be brought down. The AK also criticises that the mandates do not clearly limit the extent of the areas of application. Even though some sectors have been named (e.g. machinery or electronics), there is no final restriction, which poses a problem in particular concerning the market access for hazardous chemicals and pesticides.
Comprehensive Sustainability Impact Assessment
In the AK’s opinion another point of criticism is the lack of a Sustainability Impact Assessment, which analyses the economic, social and environmental impact of trade agreements. Hence, the AK demands a comprehensive study, which analyses the impact of the agreements on the economy, the labour market and the environment.
EU trading partners must commit to Paris Climate Agreement
The AK supports the Resolution of the European Parliament on climate diplomacy to the effect that bilateral trade agreements will only be concluded with countries that have ratified and implemented the Paris Climate Agreement. In view of the fact that the climate crisis is getting worse and that the US Government has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement on climate change, the conditions for trade negotiations with the USA are not met.
ILO Core Labour Standards as condition for negotiations
The USA has only ratified two of the eight ILO Core Labour Standards (The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour and elimination of the worst forms of child labour). For the AK, the ratification, implementation and application of ILO Core Labour Standards is a fundamental requirement for trade negotiations. Hence, the AK demands the two trade agreements to include binding provisions on ILO Core Labour Standards as well as sanctions through a dispute settlement procedure for violations of the standards.
European Parliament votes against trade mandates
The AK demands fair and transparent trade agreements, which benefit all. Environmental and social standards must be considered in the same way as European standards and the protection of public services (labour market, environment, health, infrastructure and data). On March 14th, the resolution was rejected in the European Parliament. Hence, the EP does not have an official opinion towards the mandates.