EU Foreign Ministers endorse EU-US action plan despite environmental misgivings

EU Foreign Ministers Monday on Monday gave the European Commission the go-ahead to begin implementation of an action plan to enhance trade relations between the US and EU, despite calls from environmental NGOs for a moratorium on the plan's environmental effects.

The Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP) action plan will lead to a programme of multilateral and bilateral negotiation to address barriers to transatlantic trade. The Foreign Ministers’ authorisation allows the Commission to enter into negotiations with the US in the areas of technical barriers to trade in goods, services, public procurement and intellectual property.

However, the European Environment Bureau (EEB) had last month expressed its concern that the emphasis on free access to US markets for export-oriented business takes precedence over sustainable development. The EEB, a federation of 127 European environmental organisations, had therefore demanded “an inclusive, transparent and participatory debate” about the economic changes needed for the EU and US to contribute to sustainable development.

The TEP initiative was launched at last May’s EU-US Summit in London. Implementation will now begin ahead of the December EU-US Summit in Washington. The action plan was agreed after negotiations between Commission Vice President Sir Leon Brittan and US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

Sir Leon Brittan said on Monday: “The TEP initiative will stimulate economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic and will benefit both business and consumers alike…With the TEP, the EU and US will also be able to work together as the driving force in preparing for further multilateral trade liberalisation.”

The EEB demands a set of requirements for structured economic relations between the EU and the US, including

– control by the national and European parliaments over the process;

– no interference with the right of national governments to have national environmental policies beyond EU level, nor the right of the EU as a whole to do so;

– no undermining of systems that are set in place to promote environmentally friendly production and consumption, e.g. eco-labeling, green public procurement systems;

– requirement of environmental assessment for all activities undertaken under the Partnership and active inclusion of important environmental principles, including the precautionary principle, cradle-to-grave responsibility for produces etc.

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