TABD Back on Track?
The TABD's annual meeting, scheduled to take place in Stockholm in October, was downgraded to a much smaller and less ambitious video conference as a result of the dramatic events which took place on September 11th. This diminished 'Principals Meeting' clearly presented a setback to the TABD, however the agreement to launch a new round of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Qatar a month later has more than made up for a relatively lacklustre year for the business dialogue. Meanwhile, at the time when the TABD meeting was scheduled to have taken place, a week of events took place in Stockholm including demonstrations, public forums, workshops and a hearing in the Swedish Parliament all focused on challenging the TABD and its privileged role.
n October 11th, what was scheduled to be the 6th annual meeting of this elite corporate-state alliance involving hundreds of civil servants, high-level officials, and top European and US Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), was down-graded to a mere video conference. A select team of TABD business leaders representing the TABD Issue Groups held a short video conference with US Secretary of Commerce Don Evans and EU Commissioners Erkki Liikanen and Pascal Lamy.
The annual meetings are arguably the most important events in the TABD process. It is at these events that the transatlantic troupe have a chance to meet face to face and talk at length about very detailed policy issues and strategise on how best to build the 'enabling environments' the transatlantic business elite are so aggressively lobbying for. The meetings help cement a year's work of almost daily corporate poking and prodding at government to ease-up on a whole host of regulations including measures to safeguard health, safety, environment and human rights standards. In this respect, the video conference is certainly a disappointment for the group, which has recently suffered from waning enthusiasm for the business dialogue by some in both business and government.
Despite this setback, Michael Treschow, EU co-chair and CEO of Electrolux, maintained a tone of optimism in his assessment of this year's work. "Although we were not able to hold a conference in grand format, I consider our work very successful this year in terms of policy achievements." One of the primary sources of optimism for the TABD is undoubtedly the launch of a new round of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These new negotiations give a new boost to the TABD which has focused much of its energy this year on bringing the EU and US closer together on a common WTO position.
"Any attempt to liberalise world trade is a non-starter if the world's two largest trading partners are divided."
- Michael Treschow, TABD EU Co-Chair and CEO of Electrolux
Most analysts of trade policy agree that one of the major factors contributing to the failure to launch a new round in Seattle in 1999, was the serious disagreement between the EU and US on key issues. Since then, the TABD business leaders and government officials from the highest level sought to recover from the Seattle disaster and bring the two economic and political giants together on issues of major import to business. Shortly after Seattle, the TABD-proposed Early Warning System, which had already been introduced in early 1999, was quickly seen as a way to avoid public high-profile disputes between the two trading blocs. In the past, major conflicts over bananas, hormone treated beef, and the US Foreign Sales Corporations (FSC) regime, created an atmosphere of conflict between the two trading partners which in turn stimulated concern among some lawmakers and the general public. The TABD, along with top trade negotiators, recognised that such open conflicts hurt their chances for securing ambitious liberalisation packages, as well as hurting profits due to retaliatory sanctions. And so the Early Warning System gained new impetus.
Last June in Gothenburg, the TABD co-chairs Treschow and James Schiro of PriceWaterhouseCoopers were reassured by what they called "landmark commitments" made by US President George W. Bush, European Commission President Romano Prodi, and then President of the European Union, Göran Persson at an exclusive meeting during the EU-US Summit. The Heads of State maintained that they were still committed to the TABD process and would avoid open dispute along the lines of TABD proposals.
The TABD's efforts clearly had some effect. Having helped discourage open bilateral confrontation on trade policy, and facilitating the resolution of existing conflicts, the TABD succeeded in removing a major obstacle to EU-US agreement on a new round agenda in the WTO. Faced with two economic powerhouses now working in tandem, developing country opposition weakened rapidly, paving the way for the Doha agreement to launch a new round. "Without this support by EU and US business for a new trade round, it would not have been possible for US Trade Representative Bob Zoellick and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy to reach the EU and US understanding that was necessary for a successful Doha meeting," said Treschow in a recent speech to the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce.
This year's key 'deliverables'
The TABD is particularly exuberant over the setting of clear dates for market access negotiations on services. They are also pleased with language on controversial 'new issues', particularly investment, which has been one of the key TABD campaigns. "The Doha declarations set, for the first time ever, the objective of establishing a multilateral framework aimed at improving the conditions for Foreign Direct Investment worldwide." The framework, according to Treschow, should cover general WTO principles of transparency and non- discrimination as well as include controversial dispute settlement mechanisms. He also indicated that the focus of investment liberalisation should primarily be on the South. "While international investment conditions are satisfactory in industrialised countries, WTO investment rules will lead to more stable investment conditions in developing countries."
While the disastrous Doha outcome (see 'Undercover in Qatar' in this issue) is certainly one of the most significant events of the year, and one which the TABD counts as a success, there has also been some progress on other key TABD demands, notably the implementation and refinement of the Early Warning System. There has also been some progress on establishing EUUS Guidelines for Regulatory Cooperation, a set of criteria for law-makers to follow when drafting new legislation. The TABD sees this document as a key step in achieving its goal of harmonised or mutually recognised regulation between the EU and US on all matters affecting business including laws governing social welfare, human rights and environmental protection. In TABD parlance, this combined with the Early Warning System and business involvement at the earliest stage of decision-making processes, even before elected officials, is known as, "proactively avoiding regulatory divergences."
Other 'deliverables' (the TABD term for government implementation of one of their demands) on which the business dialogue is gaining ground include the recent backdown by the European Commission on a proposed ban on the marketing of cosmetic products tested on animals and reform of EU telecoms regulations. They also appear to be gaining ground on the issue of mergers and acquisitions legislation reform, most notably in the European Union, which generally has a stricter regime.
Cause for optimism?
There are still many of the detailed demands of the TABD which have yet to be realised. These include issues regarding WTO negotiations, patent law and intellectual property protection, Mutual Recognition Agreements, and sector specific demands such as in biotechnology. Some of these issues have been on the agenda for years with few "deliverables", which has caused some internal anxieties over the efficacy of the TABD process. Undoubtedly though, under the shadow of a new round in the WTO, and Fast Track trade negotiating authority looking set to be awarded to the Bush administration, things are looking very different than they were just a few months ago. It remains to be seen just how much impetus will be given to the TABD process, post-Doha, and whether the optimism of corporate personalities such as Treschow are indeed justified.
Challenging the TABD
One thing that is certain, is that the privileged role which the TABD currently enjoys presents dangerous opportunities for large corporations to exert undue influence over government institutions and policy-making. The TABD is much more than just another example of a corporate lobby group influencing and manipulating the political environment on behalf of its member companies- it has the advantage of having been initiated and nurtured by governments. It is now even more urgent than ever that the legitimacy of the TABD and the trend of corporatestate alliance-building be directly challenged.
While the TABD held its video conference on October 11th , Corporate Europe Observatory together with ATTAC Sweden and other Swedish and international organisations organised a public forum in Stockholm, where the TABD originally planned to meet. The event, including numerous international speakers from grassroots groups and networks as well as Members of the European Parliament, was well attended and helped generate more public awareness about the TABD and problematic nature of corporate lobbying in general. A peaceful demonstration of some 1200 people also took place in the city centre, protesting against the transatlantic lobby group.
Corporate Europe Observatory also participated in a Swedish parliamentary hearing on the TABD organised by the Swedish Green Party. Shockingly, none of the parliamentarians from any of the political parties knew of the group which puts paid to the TABD contention that it is, "an important element of our democratic system." While the week's activities aimed at increasing public awareness were successful, most gratifying of all was the commitment of many people who attended the events to carry on highlighting the activities of the TABD and working to restore more direct democratic accountability and control in our societies in this age of corporate- led globalisation.
WTO Issues: Jean-Pierre Rodier (Pechiney), Jeanette Wagner, (Estee Lauder)
Dispute Management: Arend Oetker (Oetker Holdings), James Schiro (PriceWaterhouseCoopers)
Networked Economy: Henning Kagermann, (SAP) Lars Nyberg (NCR) Capital Markets: Jakob Wallenberg (SEB), Robert Pozen (Fidelity Investment)
Regulatory Policy: Paolo Fresco (Fiat) and Harry Kraemer (Baxter) Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: David Alden (Meiko) and Bill Weiler (Purafil). | Back to Text |
2: See: Corporate Europe Observatory, "TABD in Troubled Water". CEO Issue Briefing, October 2001. | Back to Text |
3: Speech by Michael Treschow to the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, November 19-20, 2001. Washington DC and New York. | Back to Text |
4: See 'Under Cover in Qatar' in this issue. | Back to Text |
5: Speech by Michael Treschow to the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, November 19-20, 2001. Washington DC and New York. | Back to Text |
6: Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) 2001 CEO Report, Page 2. | Back to Text |
7: "The EU and U. S. enjoy one of the deepest economic relationships in the world -the vast majority of trade and investment flows in an open, unfettered manner across the Atlantic. When this is not the case, we agree that consultation, rather than litigation, should be the preferred method of managing our disagreements." Gothenburg EU-US Summit Communiqué. | Back to Text |
8. Speech by Michael Treschow to the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, November 19-20, 2001. Washington DC and New York. | Back to Text |
9: Ibid. | Back to Text |
10: ibid. | Back to Text |
11: 'TABD Meeting with the US Administration and European Commission: Paper on the EU-US Guidelines on Regulatory Cooperation'. November 20, 2001. Page 1. | Back to Text |
12: "TABD Reformats Conference Due to Political and Economic Uncertainties". EABC Abstracts, September 21, 2001. | Back to Text |