EU trade negotiations to focus on greater transparency

TINZ welcomes the European Commission’s (EU’s) pledge to increase transparency in all future trade deal negotiations, a commitment which was announced last month (14 October 2015, New Zealand time) as part of its new trade and investment strategy, Trade for All: Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy.

The strategy is important for New Zealand in light of the European Commissioner of Trade Cecilia Malmström’s recent announcement that she is seeking approval from the EU member states to launch trade negotiations with New Zealand. For the EU, any such negotiations will proceed on the basis of the principles set out in this strategy, which will represent a significant point of difference from the recently agreed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

In January this year, the European Ombudsman called upon the Commission (after launching an own-initiative inquiry) for greater transparency and public access to negotiating texts in the ongoing free trade negotiations between the EU and the United States. The Ombudsman’s final report recognised that the Commission had made “real efforts” to be more transparent, but had not gone far enough.

The Commission’s strategy is a response to a demand for more transparency in trade negotiations, particularly when they encroach on traditionally “domestic” policy areas.

The new trade and investment strategy recognises that transparency should apply at all stages of the negotiating cycle from the setting of objectives for trade agreements, to the negotiations themselves and during the post-negotiation phase. Therefore, on top of existing measures, the Commission will:

  • invite the Council (comprising the heads of state or government of the member states) to disclose all free trade agreement negotiating directives immediately after their adoption;
  • during negotiations, extend Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership practices of publishing EU texts online for all trade and investment negotiations and make it clear to all new partners that negotiations will have to follow a transparent approach; and
  • after finalising negotiations, publish the text of the agreement immediately, as it stands, without waiting for the legal revision to be completed.

The Commission also commits to engage more actively with civil society and the public at large in the context of the civil society dialogues and citizens’ dialogues.

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