Last week, the US government announced it had reached a framework agreement with a dozen other countries on a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP).
Washington has been trying to negotiate a similar trade agreement with Europe known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
If the TTIP eventually materializes, it will become the largest multilateral trade alliance in the world.
While there were serious delays before the TTP was finally concluded, things also haven’t gone smoothly with the TTIP negotiations.
On Saturday, there was a mass protest against the TTIP in Germany.
In fact, there may be even more obstacles in the TTIP negotiations than in those for the TTP.
One of them is the series of scandals in which US intelligence agents hacked the phones of major European leaders.
The eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of European leaders by the US intelligence service dates back to as early as 2003, when the European Union learned that the private phones of German and French leaders could have been tapped.
In 2008, the BND, the German equivalent of the FBI, informed the chancellor’s office that the widespread gathering of telecommunications data by US intelligence was not directed entirely against terrorists, and Europe could be one of its target, as well.
After Edward Snowden, a former IT contractor for the CIA, had leaked a large amount of classified information on the agency’s global surveillance program and defected to Russia, the German news weekly Der Spiegel revealed that phone-hacking devices had been found both in the EU headquarters in Brussels and its delegation’s office in Washington.
It also said a top secret document released in 2010 showed the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying continuously on the EU’s delegation to the US.
On Sept. 29 this year, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had listened in on the BND’s communications at least twice during the German hostage crisis in Yemen in 2009.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the eavesdropping by US intelligence on European leaders as “spinning out of control”.
One of the major reasons behind the US intelligence surveillance of EU leaders’ phones is because, while the US regards Europe as an ally, it also sees it as a major commercial and strategic competitor.
For example, Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS have long regarded each other as arch-rivals in the international market for commercial planes.
The EU is deeply concerned that the massive US intelligence surveillance programs that have been uncovered constitute in effect economic espionage against leading European countries and may give American firms an unfair advantage over their European competitors.
It was out of this grave concern that French President Francois Hollande said last year that unless the US stopped eavesdropping on European communications, there was no way the TTIP negotiations could continue.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 14.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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