European Parliament kicks TTIP deal into long grass

A vote on a controversial trade deal between the EU and the US was suspended by the European Parliament president after the parliament descended into chaos over it.

President Martin Schulz postponed indefinitely a preliminary vote which was scheduled for today on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has the potential to be the biggest trade deal ever passed.

More than 200 complaints and amendments were tabled against the bill yesterday, which includes controversial measures of deregulation and could allow private companies, such as tobacco firms, to sue European governments for taking decisions which harm profits, for example introducing plain packaging on cigarettes.

The treaty, which took 12 years to put together and has been subject to negotiations since 2013, faces further delays which are likely to cause consternation Washington.

The US and the EU are the world's two biggest economies, accounting for 60% of global GDP and a market of 820 million consumers. Last year, Europe's total trade with the US came to more than €500m and constituted 15.2% of total EU trade.

The deal has faced much criticism, particularly over the proposal for Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which would allow private companies to sue governments in private arbitration courts in cases of breached contracts or in cases where governments act against the company's interests.

Gianni Pittella, president of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, which lobbied against ISDS, told Newsweek that the group was fighting for a transparent system for settling disagreements between states and companies.

"TTIP can represent the greatest opportunity for both the EU and the US to boost economy and create new jobs, but it cannot be at any cost. TTIP should also increase global standards, food protection and workers' rights. This is the fair TTIP we are fighting for," says Pittella.

TTIP proposes to enhance trade links across the Atlantic by removing barriers to trade and foreign investment. Research commissioned by the European Commission suggests that the EU could benefit to the tune of €119bn per year, with the US set to gain €95bn annually.

However, critics say that TTIP could lead to deregulation and a consequent plummet in environmental and workers' safety standards. The deal, which requires approval from all 28 EU member states, has been disavowed by the Greek government Syriza, who say they will never ratify the deal.

Pressure group Stop TTIP has gathered more than two million signatures to a petition calling for a block on TTIP and CETA, a similar trade deal being negotiated by the EU with Canada.

The controversial ISDS measure is often opposed with the example of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is currently undertaking legal action against Uruguay and Australia after the two countries introduced packaging rules making it harder for the firm to advertise.

TTIP is being promoted by British American Business (BAB), which represents the US Chamber of Commerce to the UK and the UK's trade chamber in the US.

Emanuel Adam, policy and public affairs manager at BAB, says the group was surprised at the delay but is confident TTIP will be beneficial to both parties.

"TTIP is the most ambitious trade agreement ever negotiated," says Adam. "We were surprised [that the vote was delayed] but nevertheless are still very hopeful that common ground can be found in parliament."

Adam also says that the topic of ISDS had been subject to misinformation and that the deal would not allow private companies to sue governments in any case but only where specific terms of contracts have been breached.

European Parliament kicks TTIP deal into long grass | Business