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The European Parliament should have been taking a first vote on the controversial TTIP trade agreement with the United States. But 200 proposed amendments and a 2 million signature petition have caused a delay.
The European Parliament has the power to reject any final deal on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the US and EU.
The deal would encompass a third of world trade and has brought pro- and anti-agreement protagonists up against each other, both within and outside the parliament buildings.
After a debate on Tuesday, representatives at the European Parliament failed to agree a unified stance on the TIPP, highlighting growing doubts in Europe about the benefits of the trade deal. EU lawmakers preparing the resolution received more than 200 proposed complaints and amendments, meaning it was highly unlikely to pass.
Parliament President Martin Schulz postponed the vote planned for Wednesday to avoid the possibility of the resolution being defeated. Plans for hours of parliamentary debate were also canceled on Wednesday.
Parliament 'in panic'
"The European Parliament's establishment is in panic that the vote will reveal the clear divisions," French Green party Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Yannick Jadot claimed on Tuesday.
The planned trade agreement is designed to reduce regulatory barriers to big business trade and covers topics such as food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.
Lawmakers in the EU have to establish their position, and the US Congress has to decide if it grants President Barack Obama "fast track" powers to negotiate trade deals. An accord will not be ready before 2016.
The Socialist group in the European Parliament insisted on excluding a controversial mechanism for resolving disputes with investors from the trade deal.
Under the chapter on "investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS) companies could sue governments in private international tribunals, demanding taxpayer compensation for public interest policies that allegedly limit free commerce.
Opponents of the deal have cited similar treaties in Latin America and Australia that have allowed, for example, tobacco giant Philip Morris to sue Uruguay and Australia over health warnings on cigarette packs the company alleges reduced its profits.
The USA has insisted current arrangements are adequate, but European negotiators have proposed a separate investment court.
Petition and protest
A Europe-wide online petition against the TTIP, set up by the "Self-organised European Citizens' Initiative Against TTIP and CETA" has raised more than 2.1 million signatures. It has claimed that TTIP and the CETA, which is a similar deal with Canada, are a "threat to democracy, the environment, consumers and labour standards."
Protests in Germany and throughout Europe were organized against the deal earlier this year.
A group of artists in Britain, including actors and designer Vivienne Westwood, has fronted a video campaign to raise public awareness about the trade deal.
jm/sms (Reuters, AFP)