August 21, 2015 / 4:17 PM / 2 years ago

EU tries to clear 'fog of confusion' over U.S. trade pact

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Commission will publish detailed reports on its negotiations with the United States to forge the world’s biggest trade pact, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said on Friday, responding to criticism that the talks have been shrouded in secrecy.

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom gestures as she addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

If agreed, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would encompass a third of world trade, and proponents say it would deliver more than $100 billion of economic gains on both sides.

But opponents in Europe have voiced concern that it could erode EU standards on food safety and the environment, and argue the negotiations have not been transparent.

In a blog post, Malmstrom said one of her first decisions as trade commissioner when she took office last year had been to make the negotiations more open, but the debate “seems to have been caught up in a fog of confusion”.

To address that, she said that from now on the Commission will published “detailed and extensive reports” on its website in all official EU languages.

Separately, Germany said it had urged the Commission to restore EU governments’ access to electronic reports on the state of the negotiations.

The executive decided last month to stop sending out the reports to member states in order to stem a series of leaks. Politicians from individual EU countries can now only access the documents in secure reading rooms in Brussels.

A spokesman for German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed he had written to Malmstrom to express his concerns about “the latest setback in transparency efforts.”

It was essential that politicians in individual member states were fully informed about the talks, he wrote in an Aug. 20 letter, published by investigative news site Correct!v.

“Only this way can we create the necessary legitimacy and acceptance for the talks, the result of which the German parliament must also vote on,” he wrote.

Gabriel is struggling to drum up support for the TTIP, which is backed by only 39 percent of Germans, according to a PEW Research Center survey.

The economy ministry declined to comment on whether Gabriel was satisfied with Malmstrom’s announcement about publishing more information on the Web.

Malmstrom, alluding to Gabriel’s comments, said he had rightly noted that negotiators also needed “some space for internal debate”.

So far, 10 rounds of TTIP talks have taken place and further negotiations are expected later this year with a view to finalizing a deal in 2016, Malmstrom said early this month.

One hurdle was overcome in July when the European Parliament backed a compromise on setting up a new European court to settle disputes arising from any trade pact.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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