BRUSSELS, July 18 The European Commission's call
for views on a contentious part of a planned EU-U.S. free trade
deal has drawn almost 150,000 responses that will take months to
process, a senior EU official said on Friday.
Many advocacy groups oppose aspects of the planned
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that they
say would prevent national governments from intervening to
protect consumers and the environment.
The Commission, the EU's executive body which is negotiating
the deal with the United States on behalf of the 28 EU
countries, launched a public consultation, concluding on Sunday,
on the pact's investment protection provisions.
Public consultations typically draw tens of responses. A
consultation two years ago on EU-U.S. trade and economic
relations drew 114.
The EU's chief negotiator, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, told a
news conference at the end of a sixth round of negotiations over
the pact that the Commission had received nearly 150,000
responses and would not be able to produce a report on its
findings until November.
Discussions on investment protection have been suspended
since January, although negotiations continue on other aspects
The public consultation, along with a bid launched this week
by a coalition of advocacy groups to stop TTIP
risk delaying negotiations even before they turn to thornier
topics such as food safety and energy.
Some members of the European Parliament share concerns about
the pact's investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS), a
provision allowing foreign companies to bring claims against a
country if it breaches a trade treaty.
Opponents cite as a warning the Asian arm of tobacco group
Philip Morris's legal challenge of Australia for
introducing plain cigarette packaging, arguing it was a breach
of Australia's trade deal with Hong Kong.
Critics say companies can easily seek redress in European or
U.S. courts under existing legislation.
Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has responded by saying
that ISDS is nothing new and that EU members already have some
1,400 bilateral trade deals in place, the vast majority of them
with similar provisions.
He has also said that he would seek to improve the system to
stop potential legal loopholes being used for "frivolous" claims
against a state or potential abuse.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Anna Weaver; Editing by