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EU US Trade and Tech transparency efforts meet cautious welcome from consumer groups

“Lessons of TTIP have been learned,” said Monique Goyens, the director-general of the highly influential EU consumer protection organisation BEUC at an online webinar last Wednesday (13 October 2021).

Goyens’ statement came only days before the European Commission launched a new web platform to garner input from stakeholders into the ten working groups established at the Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh in late September.

The new platform is called ‘Futurium’ and will allow an exchange of views, of papers and participation in events under the heading of each of the ten working group established under the TTC.

BEUC was among those civil society stakeholders who were allowed at the last minute to attend he inaugural in late September.

The fact that this consumer group, which had been a vocal opponent of regulatory cooperation plans built into the now-defunct Obama-era transatlantic trade agreement negotiations known as TTIP, is today talking in a more emollient manner about a new body dedicated to difficult EU-US trade topics speaks volumes about the many changes that have been taken place recently.

It indicates that the European Commission, and perhaps more importantly the United States, have made efforts to avoid that the new regulatory dialogue does not get derailed by outside opposition. The approach taken by the EU and US authorities is to let non-governmental organisations and civil society groups become involved in transatlantic regulatory conversations early on in the process.

The ten TTC working groups cover the following areas for cooperation:

  • Technology standards cooperation
  • Climate and green tech
  • Secure supply chains
  • ICT security and competitiveness
  • Data governance and technology platforms
  • The misuse of technology threatening security and human rights
  • Export controls
  • Investment screening
  • Promoting SME access to and use of digital technologies
  • Global trade challenges

BEUC as a consumer group is pleased that the United States and EU are willing to discuss matters such as standards in areas such as artificial intelligence, in the expectation that broad views on having a ‘human-centric’ approach to the matter is shared across the Atlantic

Yet some wariness lingers, especially as regards the actual transparency of working group meetings.

Monique Goyens said that commitments from the United States on publishing working group meeting agendas or meeting readouts were “evasive”. Goyens also feared the US could seek to influence the EU into watering down new regulations such as the Digital Services Act and Digital Market Acts, which aim, among others, to discipline the activity of big online platforms.

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue – TACD – stated one day ahead of Pittsburgh: “While the EU has made positive strides in terms of transparency in its dealings with the US, including an update on the TTC in mid-September, the same cannot be stated of the US side which continues to operate a closed-doors policy”.

At the very least the transatlantic trade and tech conversation has not begun with a major public outcry from civil society groups. Times do change.

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