The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations formally commenced on July 8, 2013. A little over a year later, the negotiators have held six rounds of negotiations. The most recent round of negotiations was held during the week of July 14-18 in Brussels, and the seventh round is now expected for D.C. in late September.

During July’s discussions, the two sides covered the full range of “market access” issues, including trade in goods, trade in services, investment, and government procurement. Negotiations included greater regulatory cooperation, widely considered to be the greatest value of the TTIP talks, with modest progress made in regards to several product sectors, including textiles and apparel (where they focused on labeling and safety issues), chemicals (where they discuss broad opportunities for cooperation), and automobiles (where talks advanced in areas like equivalence of technical regulations). Food safety also continued to be an important issue during negotiations, particularly with the leak of the EU’s proposed chapter on Sanitary and Phytosantiary Measures (SPS) prior to the start of the latest round.

The TTIP negotiations have continued against a backdrop of increasingly vocal opposition from a range of environmental NGOs, labor groups, and other organizations. Groups on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed concern over the potential for decreased consumer protection. With respect to food safety, Europeans are apprehensive about the TTIP opening the doors for meat from animals that have been treated with chemicals and antibiotics as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be introduced into the European market. The FDA has reportedly also communicated its fear that the TTIP could interfere with the FDA’s own food safety enforcement mandate, strengthened in 2011 by the Food Safety Modernization Act.

In response to these concerns, European Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht has stated that, while regulatory convergence remains an important piece of the TTIP negotiations, it will not result in lowered safety standards. He also made clear that EU’s food safety laws, particularly those on GMOs and beef hormones, will not change, and the EU will not surrender its regulatory sovereignty to the U.S. The U.S. side has, of course, emphasized the same point, clarifying that the TTIP negotiations will not require either side to lower its already world-class standards for food safety.

As the European Union welcomes a new Commission this fall and the United States prepares for the November Congressional elections, the TTIP negotiations find themselves at an important political juncture. The next six months will be critical for determining whether the two sides can maintain realistic hopes for an ambitious market-opening and regulatory cost-lowering agreement. As always, it is critical for companies and associations to make their voices heard with the negotiators, to ensure that their priorities for sector liberalization, regulatory cooperation, and increased transparency are taken into account.