On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s Washington office, hosted Reiner Hoffman, president of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), and Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), for a conversation on trade unions and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The event, moderated by Shawn Donnan of the Financial Times, was well attended with over 70 representatives of the media and policy communities.
Karen Donfried, president of GMF, opened the event with welcome remarks, and Michael Meier, head of the FES Washington office, provided an opening statement. Mr. Donnan invited Mr. Hoffman to speak first, and the latter began his remarks by noting that, as trade is a driver of globalization, the aim of TTIP should be to positively shape globalization for the people. Mr. Hoffmann stated that the time of “neo-liberal free trade” must end and be replaced with fair trade, and noted that a precondition for fair trade is the recognition of core labor standards, such as freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Mr. Trumka stated that TTIP was the one hope for an agreement that “works for everyone,” if the pitfall of lowering regulatory standards to the lowest common denominator is avoided. As the floor was opened to questions from the audience, the topic of a regulatory “race to the bottom” emerged. With regards to the ever controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, Mr. Hoffman conceded that ISDS was a German invention and may have even been useful in previous agreements. Yet he did not view ISDS as a needed provision between the U.S. and EU due to the quality of their respective judicial systems. Mr. Trumka agreed on the need to leave ISDS out of TTIP, going so far as to state that ISDS could inherently lead to run away panels and could limit pressure on third world nations to improve their legal systems.
When Mr. Donnan asked about the likelihood of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or “fast track” being passed by the U.S. Congress, Mr. Trumka was emphatic that TPA would not pass Congress. GMF’s president, Dr. Donfried, inquired as to the possible negative effect of opposing “fast track” on TTIP. Dr. Donfried noted that any agreement will be the result of compromise, and without TPA the EU would be less inclined to negotiate, as they cannot be certain that the painstaking compromise made with the U.S. negotiators will not be subject to endless amendments by Congress. Mr. Trumka responded by stating that the AFL-CIO is not against all TPA agreements but rather this specific bill. He noted that the AFL-CIO is promoting the alteration of TPA to make it country-specific rather than its current open form. For the last question, Mr. Donnan inquired about the chances of TTIP concluding within President Obama’s tenure. Both Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Trumka were doubtful as to the likelihood of this happening, noting the complexity of the agreement and the limitations of a U.S. election year.