President Obama first introduced the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in a State of the Union speech two years ago. Although policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic agree that TTIP would improve the economy, create jobs, and help small and medium-sized enterprises expand exports while increasing consumers’ choices, negotiations have made little progress. Hopefully this will not be the case during next week’s eighth round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels. 

A recent roundtable in Washington hosted by the Ecologic Institute brought together representatives from the Office of the US Trade Representative and from the EU Delegation in Washington, DC. Throughout the event, speakers highlighted the similarities between US and EU agricultural policy, the need for food and agricultural products to have real access to the market on the other side of the Atlantic, and the respect of each other’s food production and safety systems. However they refrained from mentioning the more controversial topics truly at the heart of the ongoing TTIP negotiations concerning trade in agriculture.

Key issues, such as geographical indications or the use of growth hormones in beef, were noticeably absent from the discussion. Geographical indications are indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a particular country, region, or locality in that territory, such as Champagne, Cognac, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Budapesti téliszalámi. These are important because the quality of these products is linked to their geographical origin, giving weight to the EU’s argument for GI protection. Yet speakers did not focus on the consequences of “Champagne” acquiring GI certification within TTIP, or the problems this would cause to US producers of sparkling white wine. Instead, they reiterated the need to put in place mechanisms to resolve differences, without stipulating what those mechanisms were or how they would work as impetuses to bring TTIP negotiations to a close. In fact, both representatives seemingly agreed more on the form than the substance of the conversation.

In order to inspire real progress in TTIP negotiations, especially in the agricultural domain, policymakers must agree on more than just the simple idea of setting up a comprehensive agreement. Key issues must be debated openly so that policymakers can take into account public opinion in Europe and the US, as well as the input of other essential actors such as agriculture lobbyists. The European Commission’s publication of TTIP negotiating texts does point to more open and public dialogue, but in order for the negotiations to be successfully concluded, both parties must engage in such transparent processes with one another and, most importantly, with their respective publics.