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Favourable winds for Transatlantic trade: a TABD update

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On May 28th, the bi-annual European Union/United States governmental meeting took place in the Hague, the Netherlands. It was a festive occasion, marking the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. But there was more to it than memorial speeches or Bill Clinton shaking the hands of Dutch citizens...

n the morning of that May day, two representatives of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, Jan Timmer (TABD EU chair, former ERT member and CEO of Philips electronics), and Lodewijk de Vink (TABD US chair and CEO of Warner-Lambert),

joined US President Bill Clinton, EU Commission President Jacques Santer and Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok to present to them the 1997 TABD Priorities Paper. Their message did not fall on deaf ears; Mr. Kok remarked that the paper "provides ... useful building blocks and inspiration to explore further possibilities of liberalizing trade and investment flows".

One of the main priorities outlined in the TABD paper is the harmonization of standards, certification and regulatory policy on both sides of the Atlantic. The goal is "approved once, accepted everywhere in the Transatlantic Marketplace". This can be reached through so-called Mutual Recognition Agreements. These are bilateral agreements in which testing, inspection and certification for conformity to standards are mutually recognized by both parties. In other words, if a product is tested safe by the US Food and Drug Administration, no additional product tests are necessary in the EU. MRAs will have huge implications, as they imply a de facto harmonization of standards across the Atlantic.

To date, NGOs and trade unions are not involved in the MRA negotiating process -- in fact the process is hardly followed or analyzed critically. Most national parliamentarians are also largely unaware of what is going on. The MRA process is a clear example of how a regime of corporate rule is being imposed in a totally undemocratic manner.

The US and the EU have been negotiating a MRA for years, but since the coming into being of the TABD the process has shifted into higher gear. An earlier deadline for seven MRAs (January 31st 1997) was not met, and the negotiations had not been fully concluded on May 28th, but the final breakthrough came on the eve of the Amsterdam EU Summit, when it was officially announced that a Mutual Recognition Agreement in six sectors had been concluded between the EU and the US. This MRA covers medical devices, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and electrical equipment, and will affect more than US$47 billion of transatlantic trade.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide an analysis of the implications of this agreement due to lack of information. However, it seems that the agreement on pharmaceuticals in particular, which was applauded by the EFPIA, might have consequences for EU regulations on the use of biotechnology in pharmaceutical production.

TABD meets in Rome

The 1997 TABD CEO-level conference will take place in Rome, Italy on November 6-7. The meetings will take place at Hotel Excelsior, which is located in the lively Via Veneto and within walking distance from the Spanish Steps, Via Condotti and Villa Borghese. The event is co-organized by Confindustria, the Italian business federation, ERT member company Pirelli and the TABD.

The CEO agenda

The TABD meeting in Rome provides a rare opportunity to inform a larger public about the TABD and how it functions as an agent of global corporate rule. CEO is seeking contact with Italian citizens' organizations to spread information on the TABD to a broader public.

If you have information on the TABD, please forward it to Corporate Europe Observatory (address see front page).

In the second half of November 1997, links to the TABD Priorities Paper and other key documents on the TABD will be placed at the CEO web site: http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/newsletter/

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Paulus Potterstraat 20  1071 DA Amsterdam  Netherlands  tel/fax: +31-20-6127023  e-mail: <ceo@xs4all.nl>