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Unpacking the Box: Rome Conference Opens Forum for TTIP Debate



TTIP has been in the works for two years now, but many feel the negotiations have lost both momentum and direction. The situation is further muddled by the polarizing debate. Both proponents and critics of the trade and investment pact seem to be engaged in a shouting match, while what is really needed is an open minded exchange of ideas on the subject. There is no use in highlighting the benefits while blithely overlooking the downsides that might occur if the treaty between the EU and the US comes into effect.

To spark a more constructive debate, experts from across the political, social and business sectors met in Rome on Wednesday, October 29, to share their perspectives at the TTIP Reloaded Conference. It was a fitting location as Italy holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2014 and therefore has a vital role to play on behalf of Europe in the negotiations.

Andreas Esche, Speaker of the Management Committee and Director of the Shaping Sustainable Economies Program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, said that the overall goal of the conference was to turn TTIP into something beneficial. “We think that’s possible. But it requires that we talk about it,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the event. “We need to open our boxes, tell people what’s in there,” he stated, highlighting the need for improved transparency.

A number of high-level Italian officials underscored the potential positive influence an agreement could have on their stagnating economy. “TTIP is the most important economic initiative that we can put in place, not only in Europe,” posited Carlo Calenda, Italian Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs. But this view did not go uncontested. Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumers’ Organization BEUC, argued that from the beginning the pact was over-sold, as if “TTIP could save the world”. “It would really be fair to speak about the losers,” she added.

“I think the conference showed that things can clear up if you give people some space for a constructive dialogue,” concluded Dr. Ulrich Schoof, Senior Project Manager of the GED Project at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Of course, comprehensive results cannot be achieved by a one-day conference. However, by initiating and honest and frank discussion, the dialogues may represent an important step towards restarting the conversation.

Watch the entire recording of the conference on YouTube: