The Cable

TTIP Leak Puts Obama’s Economic Legacy at Risk

Obama could now miss out on both his Asian and European trade deals.


President Barack Obama’s ambitious global trade agenda might go unfinished.

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.  

Those opposed to the deal were equally quick to declare it dead.

“These leaked documents give us an unparalleled look at the scope of U.S. demands to lower or circumvent EU protections for environment and public health as part of TTIP,” Jorgo Riss, the director of Greenpeace EU, said. “The EU position is very bad, and the U.S. position is terrible. The prospect of a TTIP compromising within that range is an awful one.” The documents were posted by the environmental protection group.

“We have long warned that TTIP is a danger to democracy, food safety, jobs, and public services. Now we see it is even worse than we feared,” added John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty group War on Want. “Today’s leak shows the European Commission preparing to sell us down the river, doing deals behind closed doors that will change the face of European society forever. It is simply unacceptable that a group of unelected officials should be allowed to contemplate such a thing without any public scrutiny.”

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

The White House had no comment on the veracity of the leaked documents but said they would not derail negotiations.

“There is the potential, and we certainly are aiming, to complete these talks by the end of the year, and I don’t think there’s anything about this leak that is going to have a material impact on our ability to do that,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

Photo credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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