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Secretive trade pact the TTIP: Death of the web – or a brave new horizon?

Um, neither? Doesn't matter. Just shut up and start yelling

Analysis The trinity of trans-Atlantic trade deals that have been under negotiation for two years appear to be heading toward some kind of initial conclusion.

The free-trade deals between the US and various nations have become renowned for being negotiated in secret and for efforts to open the process resulting in ludicrous restrictions that make the whole thing seem suspicious if not downright sinister.

Some have claimed it is the end of democracy, and the start of a new corporate-run world order.

Meanwhile, bureaucrats and politicians – surprised that voters actually care about the contents of trade deals – have started pushing back, with leaflets and online videos. Typically, they claim to be debunking myths, or they try to highlight the benefits of reaching new agreements on trade.

So, what's the truth? Will the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Trade In Services Agreement (TiSA) mean the end of the world as we know it, or lead to a glorious opening of trade that will bring with it prosperity and sunshine?

One answer comes in the form of a reasoned paper by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR).

The dossier is actually the eighth in a series about the different aspects of the TTIP part of the triumvirate, but this one covers the digital side of things, aka the impending death of the internet.

The paper [PDF] is written by researcher Andrea Renda of CEPS and law professor Christopher Yoo of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Yoo is a noted skeptic of net neutrality, so that means you can ignore anything in the paper you don't personally agree with, regardless of fact or reason.

Renda and Yoo take a look at the TTIP's digital chapter that they feel is "growing in importance" due to a number of recent high-profile fights and policy debates over net neutrality, cybersecurity, and data privacy, and dig into what is causing the problems.

The answer, put most simply, is law, history, and culture.

On a road to nowhere

The authors are not sure it is going to be possible to bridge that gap, and suggest that President Obama's recent testy comments about the digital aspect of TTIP show an increasing frustration on both sides.

"Notwithstanding the strong political commitment shown by both the US and EU negotiators to speed up the conclusion of the TTIP agreement, the overall environment does not seem favorable to a comprehensive agreement in the digital sphere," they note.

Getting to the juice: "President Barack Obama accused European corporations and regulators to be strategically hampering the position of US Internet companies. The underlying reason, according to the American President, is that European companies 'can't compete with us' and thus need to alter the level playing field to be able to survive."

From the US perspective, the recent investigations into Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Uber show that Europe is poking its companies in the eye just because of where they come from, although everyone agrees that Uber is just an awful company and would probably be disliked no matter where it was founded.

Not so fast though, says this report. The fact remains that Europe has a different approach, not least on the notion of privacy.

Much of the EU regulation that applies to the Internet is stricter than US regulation, but these rules apply regardless of nationality. In the EU, network operators have to share their networks even when they invest in high-speed broadband, while in the US, such obligation was lifted a decade ago. In the EU, privacy is a fundamental right, whereas in the US it is treated as a tradable right.

In the EU, antitrust is fiercer, cybersecurity has greater regulations, and consumer protection is stronger. It's the classic Atlantic differences in approach. And the reason the US feels hard done by is because US companies currently dominate the very fields that legislators are focusing their attention on.

Not that the European Union gets away with it though. The reason US companies tend to dominate on the internet is not just history, it's also laws that are simply restrictive and often out of date. "EU rules were largely unfit for the Internet age, and this created significant problems when it came to their application to the internet," the paper notes. "That said, there is reason to believe that it is mostly the inadequate and obsolete features of EU law, rather than a design to hamper US companies, that inspired the Commission [to do things that the US government and companies are upset about]."

Unfortunately this increasing understanding of each other is going down the toilet.

The EC and European Parliament are talking about changing policies to help "protect EU champions" from the Googles and Facebooks. Big American companies like Amazon and Apple are getting bad press, often in relation to the fact that they pay hardly any tax on their earnings. Market policies are keeping one eye on the foreigners while simultaneously hitting European companies on the head. Brussels is not happy and the report warns that what it is trying to do "would likely damage consumers."

Next page: A solution?

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