EU-US economic partnership gets green light

Foreign ministers approve talks despite NGO calls for moratorium, environmental assessment

EU foreign ministers today gave the European Commission a green light to start implementing a plan aimed at reducing trade and investment barriers between the EU and USA, ignoring calls by a coalition of EU NGOs for a moratorium on the plan until its potential environmental impacts have been assessed. Dubbed the "transatlantic economic partnership," the plan was agreed in principle at a summit in London in May. Commission Vice-President Sir Leon Brittan claimed today that the plan would bring benefits to businesses and consumers. Businesses will gain from efforts to remove regulatory and other "non-tariff" trade barriers, while consumers will benefit from closer cooperation between EU and US authorities on health and environmental standards and regulation, he said. The EU and USA will also cooperate to push through issues of common interest against other countries in talks at the World Trade Organisation - integrating labour and environmental standards into the process is specifically mentioned. But NGOs, led by the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau, say the plan holds dangers for the environment. In an echo of NGO arguments against the OECD's ill-fated multilateral investment treaty (ENDS Daily 22 October), they called on ministers not to agree to the plan's implementation until there were assurances that it would not undermine national or EU environmental laws and until procedures were built in to give national and European parliaments more control over the process.

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