See also: DOING BUSINESS IN BERLIN; TABD Annual Conference 1999, a CEO Special Report, November 1999.
"The idea was simple: to identify those barriers to trade or opportunities for liberalization on which both business communities could agree as targets for government action. We should put the business 'horse' before the government 'cart'."
- US Under Secretary of Commerce Hauser 1
On the 29-30th of October, over 100 CEOs from large corporations, as well as delegates from business organisations, government representatives and high-level civil servants from the EU and the US will meet in Berlin for the fifth annual conference of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) -- arguably one of the most far-reaching and influential international corporate-state alliances. 2
Through the TABD, EU and US based corporations develop government policy recommendations which the both governments in turn do their utmost to implement. In both Washington DC and Brussels, the TABD's access to the political process is remarkably institutionalised. The primary aim of the TABD is to build an integrated transatlantic marketplace and to develop and steer EU-US leadership in international trade negotiations such as within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The vision of the corporations involved in the TABD is that the so-called 'non-tariff barriers to trade' need to be removed, including a wide range of consumer, health and environment policies on both sides of the Atlantic. Examples of policies targeted by the TABD include restrictions on EU market access for genetically modified agricultural products, various European eco-labeling and recycling schemes, and US public spending provisions to support local economies. 3
The annual conferences are where transatlantic industry recommendations are presented, in the words of the TABD, "to Governments for implementation." 4 The TABD, with its usual self-confidence, "will insist on implementation of all deliverables and expect satisfactory and positive answers from Administrations." A major theme at the Berlin conference of the TABD will be the WTO Ministerial Conference being held a month later in Seattle, where controversial issues surrounding a possible new round of trade and investment liberalisation negotiations will be discussed. At the TABD conference, they will use the opportunity to develop "detailed recommendations" for the EU's negotiators, knowing that the new European Commission confirms the TABD's role as "priority-setter." 5
The following pages provide an introduction to the functioning of the TABD and its close working relations with EU and US governments, which in Europe has reached a high level of symbiosis -- particularly with the European Commission. We also present three case studies which throw some light on the impacts of this corporate-state synergy, beginning with the negotiations on transatlantic Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA's), which implement the principle of "Approved Once, Accepted Everywhere" for marketing a range of products in the EU and US. The second case study deals with the TABD's ambitions for removing barriers to marketing of products of biotechnology and the work being done in the transatlantic Business-Government Working Group on these issues. Finally, we focus on the TABD's agenda-setting role for EU-US negotiating goals and strategies in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Rather than being yet another example of a corporate lobby group successfully influencing and manipulating the political environment on behalf of its member companies, the TABD is initiated and nurtured by governments. Apart from the opportunistic pursuit of power, the politicians responsible for this corporate-state alliance act on the absurd, harmful and deeply undemocratic premise that corporate priorities should be the basis of trade policies and political decision-making in general.
In the 1990's, the removal of barriers to transatlantic trade and investment has been pursued through initiatives such as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) and the New Transatlantic Marketplace (NTM), which were both too ambitious to be politically acceptable. These were followed by the more pragmatic New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA) and the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP), which form the framework within which the TABD currently operates. 6 The deregulation process began with EU-US negotiations on Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA's) on product testing and product approval procedures. 7 Progress was slow, which in 1994 led impatient free traders to propose a Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) between the EU and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). 8 Faced with hostile reactions from several EU governments, 9 the US administration and the European Commission came up with the less far-reaching New Transatlantic Agenda, agreed upon at the Madrid EU-US Summit in December 1995. At the same time, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue was created, as a mechanism to secure input and support for the administrations' ambitions. 10 From the beginning, the TABD has played a central role in the process, identifying what it considers barriers to trade spurred on by governments' general commitment and seeming enthusiasm to dismantling them.
With transatlantic tariffs in industrial goods almost completely removed, the focus is on issues such as investment, trade in services and the removal of 'non-tariff barriers to trade'. The non-tariff barriers to trade are often of a rather technical nature (such as eliminating differences in national standards for telecom equipment), but of enormous interest for corporations. In many cases, democratically established environmental, health or safety regulations are also at stake as industry and economic departments of governments identify these as non-tariff barriers to trade slated to be dismantled.
In the NTA agenda, MRA's are the main tool for building the desired Transatlantic Marketplace. Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for several product sectors were signed in June 1997, but the Commissioners Brittan (Trade), Bangemann (Industry) and Monti (Single Market) concluded that the relatively modest, step-by-step approach towards a transatlantic market by negotiating MRAs was too slow and cumbersome. In March 1998, they proposed to begin negotiations with the US to create a TAFTA-style "New Transatlantic Marketplace (NTM)." 11 But like TAFTA, the NTM proposal was a bridge too far. Fears that the US would use the negotiations to pry open the European audio-visual and agricultural sectors led the French government to block the start of negotiations. 12
To fill the vacuum created by the French rejection of the NTM proposal, senior trade and economic officials from both sides of the Atlantic put together all the 'non-controversial' on-going EU-US efforts to reduce barriers to trade and increase regulatory cooperation. At a joint press conference after the May 1998 EU-US Summit in Birmingham, US President Clinton, EU Commission President Santer and UK Prime Minister Blair presented this package as the New Transatlantic Economic Partnership, later rebaptised as the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP). 13 Apart from the bilateral agenda, the TEP and the TEP Action Plan also foresees coordinated action by the EU and the US on multilateral issues, especially in relation to the 1999 Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference, where the two blocks pledge to "provide leadership and facilitate preparations" during the run-up to the Seattle Ministerial Conference. 14
With the TEP, governments have chosen for a modest, step-by-step approach to remove barriers to trade and investment between the EU and the US. The TEP Action Plan of November 1998, does add real momentum to the rolling program of transatlantic trade and investment liberalisation. Tight deadlines and controversial wording such as 'harmonisation', 'common market' and 'free trade area' are carefully avoided (although this is clearly the end goal of the process), and soothing language on health and the environment are added to placate critics. The TEP also envisages additional 'transatlantic dialogues' (transatlantic consumers and environmental dialogues -- TACD and TAED) -- a clear attempt to avoid the impression of a business (TABD)-driven process and to ward off direct opposition to the project. The Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP) de facto legitimises the continuous move towards the creation of a single EU-US market as well as the unprecedented agenda-setting role granted to the TABD.
"It is difficult to overstate the effect the TABD has had on trade liberalisation... in fact virtually every market-opening move undertaken by the United States and the EU in the last couple of years has been suggested by the TABD."
- US Under Secretary of Commerce, Hauser 15
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) was established in 1995 as a new way to speed up the process of transatlantic economic deregulation and integration. The initiative came from the European Commission and the US Department of Commerce. 16 In the words of then EU Commissioner for trade, Sir Leon Brittan, (along with EU Industry Commissioner Bangemann the TABD's main patron in the EC) "We and the American government... asked businessmen from both sides of the Atlantic to get together and see if they could reach agreement on what needed to be done next. If they could, governments would be hard put to explain why it couldn't be done. The result was dramatic. European and American business leaders united in demanding more and faster trade liberalisation. And that had an immediate impact..." 17
According to Jérôme Monod, the current European TABD chair: "The underlying premise is that the market itself has the capacity to come up with pragmatic positions, on the assumption that business leaders are better able to establish a dialogue among themselves than are governments and administrations... The role of the TABD is to formulate proposals, then submit them to governments for implementation." 18 Apart from identifying transatlantic barriers to trade and investment, the TABD's recommendations also serve to give strategic direction for the EU-US block pushing for liberalisation in global trade and investment negotiations, particularly in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The TABD consists of CEOs from major corporations, rather than the industry associations who have traditionally represented business interests on the national level and in Brussels (for instance through the umbrella organisation UNICE). The European Commission (EC) chose for approaching CEOs as this would contribute to making the TABD a new, more 'dynamic' process, but also because closer direct ties with 'captains of industry' strengthens the Commission's position vis-à-vis the individual Member States. Joint recommendations by the EC and the transatlantic corporate elite are harder for Member States governments to put aside. 19
The main event in the TABD process is the annual CEO conferences which, since the inaugural conference in Seville, Spain (November 1995), have been held in Chicago, Illinois, Rome, Italy and Charlotte, North Carolina. The conferences typically bring together over one hundred corporate CEOs as well as government ministers, commissioners and other high-level officials. The TABD had a flying start with the 1995 Seville conference, about which Jan Timmer of Philips reported that "there was absolute agreement that there are far too many rules now, and that they are great and unnecessary impediments to trade." Commenting on the approximately 170 specific recommendations that came out of the conference, Commissioner Brittan wrote to Timmer that "the results have set us a full agenda of practical steps to be taken over the coming 12 months in our efforts to eliminate barriers to trade." 20
Last year's TABD conference in Charlotte, North Carolina (6 and 7 November) was attended by over 100 CEOs as well US Vice-President Al Gore, European Commissioners Brittan and Bangemann, US Secretary of Commerce William Daley, US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and other high-level government representatives and guests like then WTO Secretary General Renato Ruggiero. 21
The TABD has attracted a familiar crowd of industrial characters, many of which are also involved in the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). Jan Timmer, chairman of Philips, was European co-chair of the TABD in 1997. He was followed in 1998 by DaimlerChrysler's Jürgen Schrempp and by Jérôme Monod of Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux in 1999. Some of the more active European corporations, all of which are present or former ERT members as well, include Asea Brown Boveri, Bayer, Bertelsmann, Ericsson, ICI, Olivetti, Pirelli, Philips, Siemens, Solvay and Unilever. Some of the influential TABD companies on the other side of the ocean include Boeing, Enron, Federal Express, Ford, IBM, Motorola, Nokia, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Time Warner, Westinghouse and Xerox. 22
The activities within the TABD process are closely coordinated with the main corporate lobby groups. On the relationship with the ERT and the European employers confederation UNICE, Reinhard Quick, the TABD's Global Issues Manager, comments that: "We work together, we consult with each other." 23 "The ERT," Quick explains, "is part of the TABD network. Many of the CEOs in the TABD chair ERT committees. UNICE represents EU industry and so we see what the EU industry wants through the work of UNICE." In the US a similar coordination takes place, particularly by the European American Business Council (EABC)- an active player which uses the US TABD process as a channel for promoting its political goals. 24
Despite its influential position, the TABD has no formal juridical existence. It keeps its organisational structure to a minimum by relying on its corporate leaders for direction. From the Brussels TABD office, conveniently located near the European Commission offices and other EU institutions, the TABD's European director Stephen Johnston explains: "The TABD is just comprised of the businesses that get involved. There's no real core fabric. This office could disappear in a matter of minutes; it is not permanent, nor should it be." 25 According to Johnston, the CEO founders of the TABD made a conscious decision not to set up a new organisation. "They wanted something that was focused and punchy and wasn't going to be a waste of money or time. So that's why they set up this little office." Running costs of the Brussels office and its staff are paid for by the company holding the European co-chair of the TABD. 26
Despite the lack of a formal status, the TABD has a complex structure, resembling a virtual shadow government bureaucracy. Apart from the two CEOs who act as TABD co-chairs, the TABD has two working chairs who do most of the day-to-day work. The co-chairs for 1999 are Konrad Eckenschwiller of the French employers organisation MEDEF (Mouvement des Enterprises de France) and Xerox Vice President Mike Farren. They oversee the work that is carried out in between the annual conferences by a large number of joint EU-US working groups on various issues. This year, the TABD is organised in five general working groups, each co-chaired by an EU and US based CEO. The five working groups ('Standards and Regulatory Policy', 'Business Facilitation', 'Global Issues', 'Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)' and 'E-Commerce') are divided into no less than 40 specialised subgroups. The task of these groups is "making joint trade recommendations and tracking their implementation." 27
The TABD's demands are officially presented at the biannual EU-US summits, where the TABD co-chairs deliver the organisation's mid-year reports. 28 At the most recent EU-US Summit, June 1999 in Cologne, Jérôme Monod and his US co-chair, Richard Thoman, met with US president Clinton and German chancellor Schroeder to discuss the TABD's recommendations. The TABD leaders also had lunch with the new president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, who expressed his support for the TABD and stressed its role as "priority setter" for the new Commission, for instance for the EU's WTO agenda. 29
Over the past few years, the TABD has presented its demands to the EU-US Summit in the form of a 'scorecard', setting 'priorities' for governments to focus on, and even going so far as to set 'deadlines' for their implementation. The audacity of this 'scorecard' approach reflects the cosy relationship the TABD enjoys with governments, and its conviction that its recommendations will be carried out. 30
The TABD uses the scorecard "to measure success," as "each sector and issue group highlights the recent progress, current status, and expected date of implementation of their recommendations." According to Monod: "It is generally thought that governments take on board nearly 50% which is a remarkable success rate, justifying the institution's existence all by itself." 31 Yet the TABD is still not satisfied. The main goal for 1999, "is to obtain more implementation by the Administrations, by presenting priorities, rewriting some recommendations, eliminating irrelevant issues, etc." 32 The Mid-Year reports are discussed and approved at the TABD's other annual high-profile event -- the Mid-Year Meeting, which brings together company representatives at the working level, rather than CEOs, as well as government representatives. At the 1999 Mid-Year Meeting on May 10th in Washington DC, more than 200 industry and government participants met to "assess priorities for 1999 and review progress on implementing the Charlotte Recommendations." 33 US government and EC representatives are active participants in both the annual conferences and the Mid-Year Meetings. In the workshop debates they give direct feedback to industry proposals, including on the feasibility and strategic advice on how to increase the chance to get them approved. The EC's reports from the Charlotte Conference and the Mid-Year Meeting in Washington, DC leave no doubt about the way Commission staff identifies with the desires of industry. 34
While the powerful position of the TABD is evident by its attendance of high-profile events like the EU-US summits, the TABD's real influence is a result of its privileged day-to-day access to and working relations with government institutions. According to Monod, the TABD, "is undoubtedly the non-governmental organisation with greatest access to political institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Contacts with the Commission are extremely regular, both informal and otherwise." 35 Commission documents show that Monod is not just boasting. An internal EC working document for Commission staff states that "Follow-up to the TABD recommendations is a high priority task. Vice-president Sir Leon Brittan and Commissioner Dr. Bangemann have therefore decided to personally oversee the process and will be in direct regular contact with the TABD co-chairmen on this matter." 36 Former Commission vice-president Sir Leon Brittan and his cabinet had at least 11 meetings with TABD since its launch in November 1995. 37 In 1998, Brittan had lunch meetings with TABD representatives in February, May and October, and he participated in the TABD conference in Charlotte on November 5-7th. The close relation between Brittan and the TABD is confirmed in their correspondence. 38 In a letter of March 8th 1999, Brittan promises Jérôme Monod his "full personal support for the TABD process as well as on the continuing co-operation of my officials. Clearly the value of TABD lies to a great extent in successful implementation of the decisions you take, although of course not all decisions can be immediately given effect." 39 In a letter to the TABD co-chairs on July 26th 1999, Brittan thanks them for the "interesting and productive discussion" at their meeting during the EU Summit a month before. Brittan states that "that the press conference gave a clear, strong message of the usefulness of the TABD, and of the consensus between the Commission and industry on many important issues." 40
Apart from the high-level encounters during annual TABD conferences and EU-US summits directly with Commissioners, "there is much more frequent contact, almost daily contact" with high-level Commission officials, according to TABD director Stephen Johnston. 41 The Commission "has published a list of contacts, mimicking the TABD issue groups, so every TABD issue group has a Commission contact point. The two work together and show each other the papers and start to develop a relationship," Johnston explains. "It's on-going. They have a good flow of information and proposals, and it is a positive, structured dialogue. The Commission is cooperative, helping business by giving them the information that they need. But eventually it's business that makes its recommendations." 42 The Commission's DG1 (Trade) and DG3 (Industry) have literally established a parallel structure mirroring the 35+ TABD issue groups. 43 The TABD's issue groups managers keep in direct contact with their "designated counterpart in both Administrations." 44
The Commission's commitment to fulfil the TABD's wishes are reflected in the so-called "TABD Implementation Tables," a Commission working document updated on a regular basis. In these exhaustive documents, the EC looks at TABD recommendations, "tracks the state of implementation and comments on the obstacles." 45 The Commission meticulously monitors progress on each of the hundreds of recommendations, but goes much further than just monitoring. Mirroring the US government interagency group on the implementation of TABD recommendations, the EC has a standing Interservice Group on EU/US Relations which "functions as the main co-ordination body on TABD implementation." 46
The Commission realises that it cannot handle all the recommendations itself, as some are the competence of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, but it is explicitly committed to do what it can to guide the TABD recommendations through the other EU institutions. 47 The TABD also liases with national administrations, using the privileged political access many corporate leaders enjoy in individual Member States of the EU. However the centrepiece of the TABD's power is clearly the symbiosis which has been built with (parts of) the European Commission -- a unique and disturbing example of an international corporate-state alliance.
The next three case studies will give insight to the functioning and impacts of this dubious partnership in the example of EU-US policies on Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA's), biotechnology and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Since it inception in 1995, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue and its supporters in governments have promoted "harmonised standards, certification and regulatory policies around the world that will enable products to be approved once and accepted everywhere." 48 Although full harmonisation is the ultimate objective, the step-by-step, technical approach of MRAs has, until now, avoided the political controversy raised by proposals for all-out harmonisation, like the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) or the "New Transatlantic Marketplace" (NTM) initiatives. There is an important historical parallel here as MRA's were also an important tool used in constructing the European Single Market in the 1980's. This was particularly the case in areas where full EU level harmonisation was still too controversial. 49
When the US and EU administrations set up the Transatlantic Business Dialogue in 1995, they expected this CEO-driven process to reinvigorate then stagnating EU-US negotiations on an umbrella Mutual Recognition Agreement covering a wide range of sectors. These expectations proved right. The Seville TABD Recommendations made it easier for the MRA-negotiators to narrow down the negotiations to five product sectors. 50 A deadline for completion of the negotiations was also set. 51
However, a year after Seville, EU and US negotiators got stuck again. According to Lodewijk de Vink of Warner-Lambert, then US chair of the TABD, recounting the TABD's MRA success story, "government leaders put the TABD resource to work by enlisting business leaders at the Chicago meeting to help sort out the issues in the failing sectoral MRAs and revive them." 52
At the 1996 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, a working group on the MRA covering pharmaceuticals was formed, including FDA officials, officials from both Directorates General I (Trade) and III (Industry) of the European Commission, and six executives from the pharmaceutical industry from both sides of the Atlantic. 53 As De Vink explains: "In three hours, that group developed an agreement-in-principle that reshaped the framework for that MRA." 54 TABD input was not restricted to the TABD Annual Meeting. De Vink describes how at several junctures since, industry input "became necessary." Detailing how he and Jan Leschly from SmithKline Beecham travelled to Washington for one such meeting last winter, he explained that they made their "staff available on an ongoing basis throughout the process." 55
These investments paid off soon. On 13 June 1997, the TABD could uncork the champagne bottles, when the conclusion of MRAs covering six sectors was officially announced in Brussels and Washington. The TABD issued a jubilant press release 56 that same day quoting words of praise from Charlene Barshefsky (United States Trade Representative), William M. Daley (US Secretary of Commerce) and Sir Leon Brittan (EU Foreign Trade Commissioner and Commission Vice-President) for the Transatlantic Business Dialogue's vital role in reaching the agreements 57 A year later, at the 1998 EU-US Summit in Birmingham, UK, Brittan, Daley and Barshefsky signed the MRA package, but even then the whole project still could have faltered. In November 1998, the US Congress outlawed the certification of certain medical devices and products posing vital health risks (e.g. heart monitors) by so-called third party non-governmental bodies. 58 Some of the outlawed medical devices were part of the recently agreed upon MRA, and so consequently, the US government wanted to renegotiate the whole MRA package. The European Commission would not accept any further delay in the agreements, and proposed that the outlawed devices could be replaced by others afterwards. According to TABD EU Director Stephen Johnston, the US government finally "agreed to exchange letters," shortly before the TABD conference in Charlotte, Virginia and the MRAs came into force on 1 December 1998. Johnston called this, "another testimony to the weight of the political power behind the TABD Annual Conference." 59
Although the US Congress thus managed to influence a detail of the final MRAs, by passing a conflicting federal law just before the MRAs came into force, this could not stop the agreements to come into force. MRA agreements do not need ratification by either the US Congress, the European Parliament or EU Member State parliaments.
The MRA process shows us how the TABD with the help of government bureaucrats were able to realise a business driven harmonisation agenda while almost completely bypassing parliamentary control. TABD priorities for the next set of MRA's include chemicals, biotechnology and other issues for which it ought to be obvious that business should not be in a position to control the regulatory process.
"In the initial stages, there was a certain amount of scepticism because we thought transnational relations were best done between governments but the advantages of business involvement soon became apparent." 74
Since the first conference in Seville in 1995, the TABD has -- as requested by the governments -- formulated detailed demands for what the EU and US should strive for in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The TABD-government cooperation on 'multilateral issues' has contributed directly to the birth of several WTO agreements. An example of how quickly things can develop when the two biggest trade blocks in the world operate in tandem to get a TABD demand implemented is the WTO's Information Technology Agreement. An agreement to eliminate tariffs on all information technology products was one of the main demands of the TABD's Chicago Conference in November 1996. According to then US Under Secretary of Commerce, Hauser, "this agreement was negotiated at the Singapore WTO Ministerial in December 1996 and finalised in March 1997 -- barely more than a year after the TABD made it a priority." 75
The TABD's own list of achievements includes the conclusion of the WTO Financial Services Agreement and the Telecoms Agreement (both approved in 1997), although the simultaneous pressure through other corporate groupings such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Financial Leaders Group should not be underestimated. The European Union, and particularly Trade Commissioner Brittan, played a leading role in the conclusion of these agreements, signalling a new, more aggressive EU role in pursuing global trade and investment liberalisation. 76
Indeed, the support of the European Commission, with its strong powers over EU external trade policies, is key to TABD successes in the WTO. In the Commission's "TABD Implementation Table 1998", the EC declares that it "fully supports the recommendations of the TABD regarding the multilateral trading system." 77 As a result, the EC concludes, "nearly all WTO items identified by the TABD have been taken up in the EU-US Summit statement on the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP) of 18 May 1998 and will therefore form part of the EU-US dialogue on multilateral issues on the TEP framework." 78
The report then goes into specific recommendations, revealing an almost complete overlap of TABD and EC positions. US academic, Green Cowles, points out that "while big business-Commission relations have developed in other policy areas over the past two decades, the Europeanisation of business-government relations in EU common commercial policy matters has only taken place over the past four years [since 1995, ed.]". 79 Commission trade officials involved in the TABD, Green Cowles describes, were used to strive for a compromise between various national government positions and therefore "had to adapt to the TABD process in which the interests of TABD companies were taken into consideration up-front in the trade negotiations." 80
As in many other areas, the TABD and the Commission are mutually dependant on each other when it comes to global issues. The Commission needs the support of the TABD's corporate heavyweights to create political momentum for its WTO agenda. One of the Commission's main aims during last year's TABD conference in Charlotte, Virginia was to ensure business support for the Commission's 'Millennium Round' ambitions -- a new round of comprehensive liberalisation negotiations in the WTO. 81 While there was general support for a new round to begin at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle (December 1999), there was some difference of opinion between EU and US business over whether to support WTO negotiations on new issues such as investment. 82 Mr. Reinhard Quick, European Group Manager coordinating the Global Issues group of the TABD, stresses that industry on both sides of the Atlantic strives for a "strong and efficient investment agreement" in the WTO and that the differences of opinion are strategic. One of the reasons that the US side is hesitant, Mr. Quick explains, is that "the NGOs have been making problems." 83
The general TABD demands for the Ministerial conference in Seattle were outlined in the Charlotte Declaration (November 1998) as well as in the Mid-Year Report (May 1999), but have been further refined over the summer and autumn, including high-level TABD meetings in Washington, DC in July and Helsinki in September. The TABD supports a three year round of "broad-based" trade liberalisation negotiations focusing on agriculture and services, trade facilitation, industrial tariffs, and WTO rules on investment and government procurement. 84
Another issue high on the TABD's agenda is the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which will be renegotiated from the year 2000. The Mid-Year Report calls US and EU governments "to vigorously oppose any attempts to weaken the protections achieved in the TRIPs accord." TABD companies strongly advocate a removal of the current biotechnology exclusion in the TRIPs Agreement. This appears to be a thinly disguised attempt to use the WTO TRIPs agreement to undermine the exclusions in the 1998 EU Patenting Directive that had been secured by the opposition against this directive in the European Parliament. The TABD's Mid-Year Report also demands an even tougher WTO dispute settlement system, to prevent disputes to drag on unresolved for long periods of time and so that governments can avoid changing regulations by paying compensation.
The Berlin conference will be used to launch the TABD's final demands. Mr. Quick explains that the TABD sent its draft recommendations for the WTO Ministerial Conference to both the CEOs in the TABD and to the governments in the first week of October. "Everyone then comments on them, including government", says Mr. Quick, and continues to explain the 'on-going consultation process': "At the Berlin conference we agree on the final recommendations, and of course EU and US government representatives are there too, so they know what is going on." 85 The next step, says Quick, is to "check that the recommendations are being followed, and if they are not, we will be quite insistent that the recommendations be met or try to see if there is a problem and come to a solution." 86
That the EU officially decides its negotiating position already on October 11th is no problem, according to Mr. Quick: "These are just general guidelines giving the EU the mandate to negotiate in the WTO. They have to give the negotiators some room to see what happens during the negotiations and be flexible," says Quick. 87 The TABD rests assured that its close connections to the Commission staff which coordinate WTO negotiations on behalf of the EU have been instructed that implementing TABD demands is a matter of high priority. This is very bad news for the broad coalition of environment and international solidarity groups that campaign against WTO trade and investment liberalisation.
In light of the extremely privileged access and political power enjoyed by business through the TABD process, in combination with corporate ambitions that are in direct contradiction with the goals of social and environmental groups, one wonders why the TABD has not yet been met with strong opposition.
Governments initiated a Transatlantic Dialogue for Sustainable Development parallel to the TABD back in 1997, and a Transatlantic Labour Dialogue, a Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue and a Transatlantic Environment Dialogue followed over the next year. While the sustainable development and labour dialogues are not very active, nor critical of the TABD process, the dialogues on consumer and environmental issues have shown more awareness about the risk of legitimising an agenda that is not theirs, and they plan to use the process to attack fundamental elements of the TEP (for instance, the downward harmonisation associated with MRAs). The transatlantic consumer and environmental dialogues protested against the fact that they did not have access to the EU-US summit in Bonn (June 1999), which they described as "a symbolic show of favouritism towards business interests." 88
With all the dialoguing, NGOs are taking a gamble by entering a pre-designed framework with an end goal that lacks a democratic mandate. NGO participation risks legitimising the TEP as a whole and further undermining effective democratic control. It is virtually impossible for the 'participation' offered to NGOs to correct existing imbalances in the process. Certainly NGOs have not been offered the same level of 'participation' enjoyed by the business sector within the TABD since 1995, which involves their identification of barriers and subsequent government commitment for their removal.
Commenting on the recently-established transatlantic dialogues on labour, consumers, sustainable development and environmental issues, TABD EU Director Stephen Johnston claims that business will lose interest in the process "if they have to sit down and spend half an afternoon arguing with environmentalists." 89 On the other hand, the TABD does not expect that "the Commission and the US government are going to be totally beholden to the other dialogues." At any rate, the TABD has little fear that its extremely advantageous position will suffer from competition from the other dialogues. "We are more organised and more efficient in putting the message across," says Johnston." 90
The TABD and the corporate-state alliance around it has hitherto escaped critical scrutiny from national parliaments. Disturbingly, the TABD has been very warmly received by the European Parliament (EP). A report on transatlantic economic relations approved by the EP's Committee on External Economic Relations in December 1997, "stresses especially the importance of the TABD as a driving force behind progress in transatlantic relations." 91 The report, drafted by German Social Democrat MEP, Erika Mann, "recognises the invaluable contribution by the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) in making concrete recommendations for dealing with obstacles to transatlantic trade and investment alike." Throughout the report, the EP fully embraces the TABD's vision of a New Transatlantic Marketplace (NTM) and recommends to "develop a more comprehensive vision and a framework for the NTM, including a road map, timetable and target date for completion." 92
Several times, the report refers positively to the role of the Transatlantic Policy Network (TPN), which is hailed for its "pioneering role in defining the concept of the New Transatlantic Partnership." The TPN, a think-tank with offices in Washington, DC and Brussels, brings together European and US business leaders, members of the European Parliament and the United States Congress as well as academics. The TPN is strongly committed to transatlantic and global free trade and develops long term strategies for ensuring EU and US interests in the global economic and political arena. That more research is needed on the role of the TPN in EU-US policy-making becomes clear from the fact that Erika Mann, the very person drafting the TABD-friendly EP report, is a prominent member of the TPN. An even more disturbing example of MEP support for the TABD is the fact that Elmar Brok, German Christian Democrat MEP and new chair of the EP Committee on Foreign Relations, is an active participant in the TABD. Apart from being elected member of the European Parliament, Brok is also on the payroll of Bertelsmann AG, the German publishing giant. On behalf of Bertelsmann AG, Elmar Brok is the TABD's European group manager on electronic commerce, an area where the TABD actively works to avoid government regulations and most of all taxes and tariffs.
The insights provided in this report into the corporate-state alliance between EU and US administrations and the TABD are clearly only the tip of the iceberg. We have only touched on a few of the wide range of issues covered by the TABD process and the secrecy around the Commission's working relations with the TABD prevents a full overview. 93 It is important to restate that the TABD has no official status and is not an official advisory body to the Commission. There is no mention of the TABD in any of the EU treaties, which should govern the decision-making processes in the EU. Still, the TABD has been given a major role in shaping content and priorities of EU-US trade policies. Its influence over EU and US regulations and policies on any field of interest for business is enormous.
TABD chair Monod claims that corporations, by creating economic growth, have a "'natural' legitimacy", which "allows the TABD to exert effective influence over the decisions of governmental bodies."94 Last year's TABD co-chair, Dana Mead, of US-based corporation, Tenneco, talks about "a new commercial century, where commercial forces may dominate," where market forces "will overwhelm the ability of our social, political, and economic institutions to cope with them^Å Business leaders have to try to find institutions that can deal with this transition," says Mead, and he points to the TABD as an example of business "building the institutions to handle this change." 95
According to Mead, business leaders "had to drag our governments into this, sometimes kicking and screaming." 96 This might have been the case for some governments and certainly it will be the case for elements within governments, but generally the TABD is not the result of a corporate grab for power. The TABD is a corporate-state alliance initiated by parts of the European Commission and the US government which saw such a body as providing momentum for their political agenda and increasing their power. Meanwhile, the TABD has received the support of EU governments at large (such as the heads of state meeting with the TABD chairs at the EU-US Summits) as well as the European Parliament.
The TABD is a disturbing but predictable model of political decision-making in an era where economic globalisation and corporate international competitiveness dominate the political agenda. The deregulation process -- which actually boils down to a regulatory regime in the interests of large TNCs -- will further accelerate the process of corporate mega-mergers and economic power concentration. 97 The social and environmental 'side effects' -- from job losses to increased transport flows and intensified competition on rules -- are predictable.
The threat to democracy is no less acute. A far-reaching corporate-state alliance has been allowed to evolve on the transatlantic level with virtually no public debate. Reigning in the completely inappropriate powers which have been granted to corporate leaders through this process may be one of the most essential democratic struggles in the coming years.
This briefing on the Transatlantic Business Dialogue is brought to you by: Belén Balanyá, Ann Doherty, Olivier Hoedeman, Adam Ma'anit and Erik Wesselius.
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is a research and campaign group targeting the threats to democracy, equity, social justice and the environment posed by the economic and political power of corporations and their lobby groups.
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