The controversial transatlantic free-trade treaty being negotiated by the EU and US will promote transparency and the rule of law, one of the US’s lead negotiators told the International Bar Association. 

Robert W Holleyman, deputy US trade representative (pictured), said the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its sister agreement the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will act as ‘force multipliers’ in promoting the protection of public health, the environment and employment rights.

He was defending the treaties against critics who say they will have the opposite effect, in what IBA president David W Rivkin said had often been a ‘truth-free’ debate.

Negotiations for the TPP, covering the US and 11 other states, including Australia, Japan, Mexico and Vietnam, concluded last year. It now faces a battle for approval in Congress.

The next round of TTIP talks opens in New York on 3 October, but the future of the pact is in doubt because of political opposition and uncertainty following the Brexit referendum vote.

Holleyman dismissed criticisms that the treaties would empower multinationals to overrule decisions of governments in matters such as health and workers’ rights. ‘TPP expressly recognises parties’ right to regulate in the public interest,’ he said. He stressed that the provisions had been published openly on the web for public comment and that the same would apply to TTIP.

Investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) proceedings, which critics have painted as a secret parallel system of international justice, will be open to the public, he said.

He defended the system as being ‘consistent with the American legal tradition’ and said the TPP treaty requires the tribunal to dismiss investor claims that are ‘manifestly without merit’ at an early stage. In the interests of public health, the ISDS system will not be open to investors seeking to challenge tobacco control measures, he said. 

Calling for urgent action to ratify TPP and conclude TTIP, Holleyman said that failure would leave the way open for rival trade pacts, such as the Chinese-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) ‘will not have the high standards of TPP’. Likewise ‘TTIP is a key vehicle by which the US and our partners in Europe can provide leadership’. 

In the run-up to the US presidential election, he reminded delegates of the catastrophic impact of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs, which prolonged the depression and led eventually to world war.