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Schadenfreude – Will the TTIP end up on the acronym scrapheap?

The United States Congress may yet derail the proposed free trade agreement between Europe and America. The signs are not looking good – reports our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

The third round of the negotiations for a Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union will be held in the week beginning March 10. Progress has been deliberate rather than steady and there is a lot of ground still to cover. On the European side, there is continuing concern over intellectual property rights – including US snooping – as well as the legal basis of health and safety regulations.

The EU works on the preventive – anticipatory – principle, America on empirical evidence. Expectations of completing the negotiations by the end of the year are diminishing.

An overarching problem is in the confirmation of the end result of the negotiations. When the EU has signed up, it is committed. In the US, two authorities are involved. In general, the US Congress confirms international agreements. Confirmation takes time and may introduce new problems – or revive old ones.

To provide the other party in the deal with better assurance, the American president can confirm trade agreements but only if he has ‘trade promotion authority’ conferred by an act of congress. The TPA has expired without renewal. Republican leaders decline to act on a new TPA until they have the assurance of the company of enough Democratic voters to compensate for those party colleagues, who are inveterate protectionists.

Some Congressmen may want to see the results of TTIP negotiations before they give the president Barack Obama a new TPA. For its part, the EU will wish to know that the TPA is up and running before it tables its final offers. There is a long way to go to ensure that the TTIP and the TPA are not replaced by TTFN – the wartime salutation ‘ta ta for now’ for the uninitiated.

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