US-EU Trade Zone Talks Strained By Doc Release

     (CN) – France threatened to reject a major trade deal between the United States and the European Union on Tuesday in the wake of Greenpeace’s release of 248 pages of confidential negotiating documents.
     The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would create a free trade zone encompassing half the world economy. However, through 13 rounds of talks major disagreements remain between the two sides.
     Relations between negotiators grew only more strained on Monday after Greenpeace posted the documents, divided into 16 unique PDFs, that the group claims show that the U.S. playing the bully on issues ranging from food safety and environmental standards, and the EU repeatedly caving in to its business-friendly demands.
     Ignacio Garcia Bercero, chief negotiator for the 28-member European block, said the breach of confidentiality has undermined mutual confidence.
     “Does this bother us in the negotiations? Yes, for sure. It is not good for confidence in the negotiating process,” he told reporters.
     The office of the U.S. Trade Representative would not comment on the validity of the documents, but a spokesman said the interpretation offered by Greenpeace was “misleading at best and flat-out wrong at worst.”
     Greenpeace opposes the trade deal and has argued that it would be far too favorable to multinational corporations and other big businesses at the expense of consumers and the governments involved.
     During a news conference in Berlin, Juergen Knirsch, of Greenpeace, said the documents were leaked through the organization’s Netherlands chapter to “ignite a debate.”
     “The secrecy surrounding the negotiating process ,which started over two-and-half years ago, is harmful to the democratic ground principles of both the EU and US,” he said, quoting a written statement from the organization.
     “The best thing the EU Commission can do is to say ‘Sorry, we’ve made a mistake,'” Knirsch added.
     Greenpeace maintains that among other things, provisions contained in the documents would allow big business to intervene in government decision-making processes and allow them to bypass the established legal order to sue countries over rules and regulations they don’t like.
     Measures like these, Greenpeace said, “fly in the face of democratic sovereignty.”
     “Corporations should be subject to the same rules and courts as citizens and governments,” the organization said. “Trade agreements must serve people and the public interest.”
     But Garcia Bercero said the documents are simply negotiating texts, and nothing in them has been agreed upon.
     Negotiators are hoping to have a consolidated text on uncontentious issues in hand by July. Garcia Bercero and others on the EU side have said they hope the tougher issues can be hammered out by the end of the year.
     But on Tuesday, the position of those with a seat at the negotiating table seemed to harden as a result of the Greenpeace leak.
     France and some other European countries with rich culinary and farming traditions are particularly concerned about U.S. policies that give greater freedom to trade in genetically modified food, chlorine-rinsed poultry and hormone-treated beef.
     France is also protective of subsidies to its film industry, fearing eventual domination by deep-pocketed Hollywood.
     It also isn’t helping that the United States in now in the throes of a highly unusual presidential election year.
     Some are now suggesting that it is unlikely a deal will be achieved before President Barack Obama leaves office.
     But as far as the White House is concerned, the Greenpeace leak is no reason to chuck all the work that’s already gone into the trade talks.
     “There is the potential, and we certainly are aiming, to complete these talks by the end of the year,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters during his daily briefing on Monday.
     The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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