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On TTIP an ambitious agreement is still possible, says Business Europe’s Marcegaglia

by Carmine Fotina

“An ambitious agreement is still possible,” says Emma Marcegaglia, head of BusinessEurope, Europe’s business lobby. She’s currently in the US for a series of institutional meetings with political, diplomatic and industry representatives regarding the transatlantic TTIP treaty.

“Closing a deal by the end of the Obama administration will be hard, that’s undeniable. But with a pragmatic approach, non-ideological, and at the same time creative, it might happen by November — at least a political agreement the European Union could then formalize with the next US administration.”

FOTINA: What points does European industry consider indispensable to closing an agreement?

MARCEGAGLIA: In the various meetings that I've had these days, especially with US negotiator Michael From, we’ve established that we wouldn’t be happy with a watered-down agreement, one that only addresses customs duties and tariffs, because there would still be political costs that would not be adequately compensated for in economic terms. We couldn’t envision, for example, an agreement that didn’t deal with crucial issues for us, like public procurement measures able to eliminate restrictions to access for American contractors, to ensure protection for characteristic regional products and to allow standardization of sector regulations. On the first two points, unfortunately, we are still far away from an agreement, but we’ve made some progress on the standards issue.

FOTINA: The timeframe is objectively very tight. Have your meetings been positive on that front?

MARCEGAGLIA: I can say that Froman has a clear mandate to close a deal by the end of the Obama administration. But there’s also a perception that Europe has become less committed to a deal, with the exception of the Italian government, whose attitude is much appreciated. This may be the last useful window for the next few years: elections in France and Germany, mid-term elections in the US in two years, a new EU Commission — taking us to 2020 and the next US presidential elections. There could be an opening between the end of 2017 and 2018, but there are too many unknowns. That’s why we’re pushing for a major acceleration in the next round of negotiations planned for July, which at this point will be decisive.

FOTINA: Is there an understanding with the US on the process of closing the agreement?

MARCEGAGLIA: This is a very important point. We don’t want the US to put everything on the table and try to hammer a deal in the last two weeks. We explained to our counter-parties the risks that would create, because the process of decision-making and approval by the European Union is much more complicated, and two weeks would bee too short a window.

FOTINA: At the end of the month, the president of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker will ask for a renewal of his mandate to negotiate? What do anticipate will happen?

MARCEGAGLIA: I expect a clear call by Juncker to governments that, in words, to Brussels, profess to be great supporters of the Treaty, but at home, for internal political reasons, criticize it. You should not favor short-term advantage over an agreement that would open markets and have enormous advantages for international trade and growth, with Europe itself likely being the main beneficiary.

FOTINA: France has come out openly against the Treaty…

MARCEGAGLIA: I think the French position is extremely open to criticism, dictated by internal pressures that don’t take into account the long-term benefits that would accrue to a future generation of Europeans. Germany’s position seems to seesaw a bit, but at the Hannover summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her support. The UK is still in favor but we can’t ignore the great uncertainties around the Brexit referendum and the consequences that would have on negotiations.