BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union made public on Wednesday confidential papers being used to negotiate a free trade deal with the United States, an unprecedented step to deflect criticism from anti-globalization campaigners that Brussels is drawing up the world’s largest trade deal in secret.
The eight thematic texts, which set out Europe’s position in areas ranging from sanitary rules to investment in small companies, do not cover all areas of discussions and not all the ideas set out will necessarily be included in the deal.
But their release marks the most significant step by the European Union in its public relations battle with a broad array of campaigners who are determined to block the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
“There are lots of myths and misconceptions floating around about what we want to achieve and what is not in the agreement,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a news conference, detailing the decision to take this step for the first time.
A final deal, which could be concluded at the end of this year, will contain 24 chapters and Malmstrom promised to continue to publish the European Union’s papers as progress is made and always after they have been shown to the United States.
Free-trade advocates say the trade agreement will create a market of 800 million people, create millions of jobs and serve as a counterbalance to Russian and Chinese power.
Political parties and campaigners from across Europe opposed to the deal, who have unified under the banner ‘Stop TTIP’, say an accord will undermine European food and environmental laws and allow U.S. multinationals to bully EU governments into doing their bidding.
Prominent EU lawmaker Ska Keller, the deputy leader of the multinational Greens bloc in the European Parliament, said the transparency initiative remains “a paper tiger” and that the accord is still being negotiated behind Europeans’ backs.
But Malmstrom defended her decision not to release more papers, particularly on sensitive areas such as tariffs, where EU officials have said they want to protect European beef farmers.
“You need to have a certain secrecy,” Malmstrom said.
Negotiating papers on energy also remain confidential, which EU officials said reflects difficulties in finding common ground with Washington on securing future U.S. oil and gas exports.
Final agreed texts will remain confidential until an agreement is reached, the EU said.
Negotiations for the TTIP were launched in July 2013 and officials are seeking a deal that goes well beyond trade to remove barriers to businesses, in what will be the broadest deal of its kind worldwide.
This year will be crucial to making progress before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office, but so far nothing has been agreed. Each side has accused the other of trying to protect specific industry interests.
Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Sam Wilkin