No business bias – you have got to be joking!Two weeks ago, Corporate Europe Observatory and India FDI Watch published a report that revealed how the negotiations for a free trade agreement between the EU and India had been hijacked by business interests. The EU Commission has responded to the report by rejecting the allegations, claiming that there was no business bias in the trade talks. After the release of our report "Trade Invaders", the Commission denied that there was a business bias in the trade talks between the EU and India. This blog counters this denial.
Two weeks ago, Corporate Europe Observatory and India FDI Watch published a report that revealed how the negotiations for a free trade agreement between the EU and India had been hijacked by business interests. The EU Commission has responded to the report by rejecting the allegations, claiming that there was no business bias in the trade talks. Commission spokesman John Clancy told Intellectual Property Watch and Bridges Weekly that it was “not true that business was granted privileged access to the European Commission.” He claimed that “when drafting its strategy for an FTA with India, the European Commission consulted various stakeholders and institutions”. Bridges also reported that Clancy provided a number of examples of dialogues and workshops, specifically aimed at including the interests of more vulnerable social groups in the negotiations. Civil society vs industry: 6 vs 100 meetings What examples might these be? Earlier this year we asked DG Trade for a list of meetings with civil society organisations on the EU-India FTA. We learnt that in 2009 and the first half of this year, six meetings had taken place with Médecins Sans Frontières, the European Trade Union Confederation and other development NGOs. In contrast, DG Trade provided us with a list of nearly 100 exclusive meetings with industry lobbyists on the trade relations with India over a comparable period. If that's not privileged access, what is? Had the Commission spokesman read our report, he would know that his own colleagues consider their relations with industry as “privileged”. An internal DG Trade report of the 2006 EU-India business summit praised it as a space for big business to “provide direct inputs to the trade negotiations” through “the privileged access that CEOs may gain to leaders”. And last year, DG Trade's Director General, David O'Sullivan, admitted that while his door was open to NGOs, he had “indeed made efforts to have more contacts with business.” As a result, “industry walks through that door more often than others,” he said and added: “I do not apologise for that, this is the way it's going to be.” PR exercise with no impact on policy But the number of times DG Trade meets the different parties is only part of the story. The quality of the department's 'consultations' varies as widely as their impact on EU trade policy. DG Trade's official consultation forum, for example, the Civil Society Dialogue, has long been criticised by civil society organisations as a PR exercise which has zero impact on actual policies. The same goes for the EU's trade and sustainability impact assessments. The one for the EU-India FTA has been denounced for its methodological flaws and its economistic pro-liberalisation bias, which make it an inadequate tool for enhancing sustainability, transparency and participation. It was also not published until May 2009, nearly two years after the start of the negotiations. So much for the broad consultations that accompanied the drafting of the EU's negotiating strategy. Compare that with the dozens of exclusive meetings between the Commission and industry where sensitive negotiation tactics are discussed. Or with the EU's market access working groups. Here, Commission officials, EU member state representatives and corporate lobbyists sit together to discuss Indian regulations standing in their way – and develop joint strategies to get rid of them. Industry praises these meetings as a way to make the Commission “adopt to company perspective” and “speak company language” as a manager of the supermarket giant Metro put it. The mere comparison between the positions of industry, public interest groups and the Commission regarding the EU-India talks shows that the Commission does indeed speak company language. In most negotiating areas, it parrots the corporate agenda. Is John Clancy ignorant of what happens behind the closed doors of his own DG? Or did he just hope that a rapid denial would make the pesky journalists and NGOs go away?