Trade deal across the Pond: risky or promising?

The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A lot of acronyms because this is politics! When blogging about the TTIP my focus is on the land and sea but many of the concerns are about human safety and corporate power.

On the Eastern side of the Pond, the European Commission (EC) tells us TTIP news. We Europeans are invited to give our opinions in a consultation starting in March this year. I’ll discuss that later in my article here. The bigwigs want our opinions because the TTIP will affect all of us. Is it risky? Is it promising? Perhaps it’s both of those.

I’ve been blogging about the TTIP since last summer when negotiations were shrouded in secrecy. Now, we can hope, there’ll be more openness.

Some people think the TTIP will give too much power to big companies. Myriam Vander Stichele at the not-for-profit Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), based in the Netherlands, says that the TTIP will give banks ‘free rein’. In another article, Ms Vander Stichele and others call the TTIP a ‘race to the bottom’. They say that ‘corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards as well as undermine digital rights.’

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) (‘Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU’) tells us that recent events about the genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, GE) potato called Amflora involved ‘conflicts of interest, flawed science and fierce lobbying’ as ‘[the European Food Safety Authority] and [the biotech giant] BASF paved the way for controversial GM crops in the EU’.

EurActiv has published an open letter about the TTIP. There several non-governmental organisations, including CEO, warn that things could get out of hand.

‘Despite reassurances from EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht… the TTIP talks [are about] the ‘mutual recognition’ of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers… In fact, there are very few financial barriers left to be removed… the US and EU are pushing for so-called barriers to trade, including controversial regulations such as those protecting food products… to be removed as well as the prevention of additional ones.

‘For the EU, that could mean accepting US standards which in many cases are lower than its own… [and the TTIP] could open the gates for multinationals and investors to sue EU Member States if new environmental or health legislation… adversely affects their business prospects…

‘Member States will be afraid to introduce new and effective legislation that may have positive social and environmental impacts but which risks upsetting our trade partners… The arbitration panels over these disputes may have the ability to levy crippling fines in line with “potential” profit loss… [Anyway,] EU commercial and single market laws are overseen by myriad court jurisdictions, including the European Court of Justice set up under the European Treaties. Why the need for something operating outside these conventional arrangements?’

The letter then reminds us of legal action against the Canadian government about fracking and against the Australian government about cigarette packaging. ‘These are only two of the 500 cases against 95 governments in recent years…

‘Europe would most likely lose its position as a global frontrunner on public policies such as water, nature protection, food quality, chemicals and climate and energy… a new category of impact assessments would need to be undertaken to see which multinationals interests are jeopardised…

‘ISDS [Investor-State Dispute Settlement] arrangements in the draft EU-Canada Free Trade Deal which was recently agreed by the European Commission, though not yet approved by the European Parliament and Member States, have still not been made public… How can we be reassured [about the arrangements in the TTIP]… when we still cannot get access to the details of already negotiated agreements?… what is masquerading as a trade deal may be a far more sinister attempt to roll-back environmental and public health laws built up over decades in the name of corporate efficiency.’

On the American side, Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Steve Suppan of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy say that the TTIP could be bad news for livestock welfare and food safety. The blog post I’ve just linked to shows my summary of those authors’ words.

Do we think the TTIP is promising? Here in Europe, Mr De Gucht has published a statement about the TTIP.

‘Sometimes, policy preferences differ deeply between the two sides of the ocean… we want to find solutions that are in the interest of both sides, without compromising our values and without lowering the level of protection…

‘[ISDS is not]… an assault on the rule of law [as some have called it]… it is essential to underpin a modern global economy… [ISDS] has not prevented nine of our most recent EU member states from acquiring the entire body of EU law, including for example our very strict rules on GMOs, on beef hormones, on chemical products… All of these countries had investment agreements with the US before they joined the EU. And yet there has been no challenge from any American company to any of this new regulation…

‘[P]ublic interest is intense and, indeed, the scale of our investment relationship with the US… I have decided that the EU needs a public consultation in order to reflect on what the EU’s negotiating position on investment protection issues will be – with a particular focus on [ISDS]. This consultation is part of the Commission’s overall determination to ensure that the TTIP negotiations are as open and transparent as is possible…

‘This is a great opportunity to get important feedback from the public and from all those who have a stake in a successful TTIP outcome. The conclusions of the public consultation will then feed into the process and allow the EU to form its position on these issues for the negotiations on the text in respect of this particular issue.

‘This 3 month period of reflection will begin in March and my team is currently working on the details and practicalities.’

Are we reassured? Do we trust Mr De Gucht to negotiate on our behalf about the TTIP?

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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3 Responses to Trade deal across the Pond: risky or promising?

  1. Eqfe says:

    RIsky, depending on your priorities when it comes to the food you eat, very risky. Western Europeans have shown a willingness to pay more for things like meat humanely raised, etc. Experience has shown that the number 1 priority in the US is keeping the cost down no mater what. Never mind animal welfare, Farms are exempt from employee safety regulations.

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