Trade agreements can affect anything from employment to migration, so no wonder that people are interested in them. On 3 February our Facebook fans had the chance to ask Bernd Lange, the chair of the international trade committee, all about them during a chat. The German member of the S&D group, who is also in charge of drafting Parliament's position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), managed to answer more than 60 questions on trade agreements such as TTIP.
Many questions were about the EU-US trade agreement TTIP, which is currently being negotiated. Some people asked if it was worth continuing the talks as many people were opposed to the deal. Lange said: “Let's fight for a people's TTIP and make a decision based on a final text."
People also questioned how trade agreements were being negotiated and asked how more transparency could be achieved. Lange answered: “There has to be a certain degree of confidentiality in any negotiation. But there is unprecedented transparency in these talks, thanks to our pressure and that of civil society." He also added: “The negotiating directives (the mandate) are decided by a unanimous Council decision. The Parliament monitors and influences negotiations. We are in close contact with the [European] Commission, member states and other stakeholders. At the end of negotiations, it's up to the elected representatives to approve or reject any agreement."
There were also concerns that trade agreements could lead to job losses in Europe. Some asked if there was an EU plan to tackle possible job losses. “There are good agreements and bad agreements," said Lange, "and there are always two sides to a negotiation. Partner countries must engage as well." He added: “No trade deal will lower our European labour standards. In addition, we are fighting for strong and enforceable labour chapters in all of our agreements."
Lange also discussed the benefits of trade agreements, saying they were not only about lowering tariffs but also about addressing “standards and rules, and we want to set the bar high”. He added: “A good agreement could help SMEs do business easier (…), set global rules and standards - I'm thinking of labour standards, data protection and gender equality." Referring to TTIP, he said: “Public services are excluded from the agreement."
There is a possibility the US could open up its procurement markets to European companies as part of TTIP. Lange said there needed to be clear benefits like this for Europe: “If there is no ambitious deal on the table, there will be no deal."
Lobbying was another topic that came up. Lange commented: “I meet stakeholders and experts from all backgrounds and sectors: trade unions, industry, consumer organisations... The list is long."
Someone also asked if trade policies could influence migration. Lange responded: “Preferential trade with our neighbouring countries could improve the living conditions in our partner countries." He also gave an example of what was being done at the moment: “We are trying to deliver quick and tangible results with Tunisia and Jordan."