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02 July 2014
Should TTIP rewrite our laws? Business groups think so.
Last week at a hearing of the US Senate Finance Committee on trade enforcement, some industry representatives were angry. The EU, it seems, has refused to compromise on its food standards as part of the EU-US trade deal, which led to some strong words from industry reps. Inside US Trade reports:
The U.S. soybean industry this week attacked statements by senior European Commission officials saying the EU is unwilling to consider changing any laws or regulations governing the authorisation and labelling of biotechnology crops in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). "This is not an acceptable position," Richard Wilkins, a representative of the American Soybean Association (ASA), testified at a June 25 Senate Finance Committee hearing on trade enforcement. "The very nature of trade agreements necessitates the changing of laws and regulations by all parties to implement their provisions."
But that wasn’t all. The National Chicken Council were just as livid, because the EU has refused to move on allowing chlorinated chicken into the EU market:
Kevin Brosch, a lawyer for the National Chicken Council (NCC) and a former U.S. agricultural trade official, called it "a national embarrassment -- and an insult to our citizens who rely on the ... [U.S.] system of inspection to protect their health" that the EU continues to prohibit poultry imports from the United States.
An embarrassment and an insult to the American people no less. But are they right? On what planet would it be acceptable for US industry to challenge democratically made EU laws at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in the United States? Planet TTIP of course!
While the Commission and other proponents continue to whisper reassurances to European citizens, it is these sorts of statements, made in far way committee rooms, that belie the quiet danger that “regulatory cooperation” entails. Once again, it is important to remind readers that TTIP has little to do with trade. TTIP is a political agreement, aimed at reshaping the regulations and rules to favour the wishes of business, but which will have very real consequences for citizens. Our laws and regulations are being kicked around like a football, without our knowledge and with very little oversight from any referee.
Reign of the inferior product?
The prevailing notion that TTIP could improve or “level up” standards on both sides of the Atlantic is false. Although this concept has been trotted out by many, we’ve seen nothing but evidence to the contrary. Industry demands, whether they’re European or American, have pushed to lower regulatory “barriers to trade”, not raise.
The attack on European food standards is a clear example of this. Instead of suggesting changes that could benefit both US and EU consumers, such as eliminating the use of chlorinated washes for poultry carcasses altogether (thereby raising US standards to EU level) the goal is instead to undo such safeguards.
"We have been shut out of the European market for 18 years, and there is no current indication that the TTIP will remedy that situation," claims Brosch. Well, yes. But perhaps if you considered producing a higher quality product, that complies with European health and safety standards, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.
There are other risks associated with this deregulatory shopping list, which - from what we know - has been duly taken up by both negotiating teams. Firstly, allowing US lobby groups like the National Chicken Council to challenge EU regulations as part of TTIP, could result in sub-quality produce entering the EU market; an inferior, but cheaper, product to buy. This in turn risks undermining EU producers who could be priced out of the market. The knock on effect of this alone will be the downward pressure on regulations, as EU farmers will call for changes to allow them to compete with these cheaper US imports. Hence, the inferior product will reign. Our regulators and the Commission should be doing all in their power to resist such moves by industry.
Pierre Defraigne, Director of Madariaga at the College of Europe warned in a paper entitled ‘Choosing between Europe and the TTIP’ that the deal ‘opens up the possibility of a U.S. “divide and conquer” strategy in the heart of the legislative process of [EU] integration.’
Perhaps this kind of meddling from US industry is the beginning of this. The US soybean industry also took aim at Poland for instance, for a law banning the use of GMO ingredients in animal feed, insisting that it must be “removed” as it has “no basis in science”. And despite the European Food Safety Association approving peroxyacetic acid (PAA) as a pathogen reduction treatment in March, after extensive pressure from the US, it will still be up to European countries to approve the substance. A likely new front of assault for the US meat industry.
If there are any suggestions that I’m being anti-American - take note - European corporations are playing just as sly a game as American ones. This week it was revealed that EU proposals for financial regulation in TTIP brought forward by the Commission are set to benefit the interests of the European financial sector but “could endanger reforms made since the financial crisis, and invoke another era of risky deregulation” according to the Corporate Europe Observatory and The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations:
“This proposal will not only make it more difficult for the US authorities to regulate European banks, it could block needed reforms on both sides of the Atlantic. It is no wonder that the EU position is popular with the banks on Wall Street. This proposal should be stopped. It merely confirms that trade agreements work against democratic control and effective regulation of the financial sector.”
These kind of revelations do not give us much confidence that the Commission will always act for the benefit of citizens, either here or in the US.
Who’s in the driving seat?
“The degree of parliamentary over-sight and civil society engagement is limited or non-existent” Tom Healy of the Irish Nevin Economic Research Institute has explained in a detailed blog post recently:
‘There has been a marked lack of transparency and openness in the process to date with a lack of availability of key documents and briefing material. Recent controversies over data protection as well as surveillance have added to the impression that European and US citizens are in the dark when it comes to the details of what is being proposed and what is under discussion.’
The question of secrecy and the lack of political oversight will continue to dominate the discussion surrounding TTIP. Although awareness has grown in some European countries, the restricted access to negotiation texts for representatives of Member States and members of the European Parliament make it difficult to assess who is influencing these talks, and where political oversight starts and ends. Congress in the US is having the same problem. This is likely to get worse, not better, when from the 6th round of negotiations this month, authorised officials will only be allowed to view joint EU-US proposed texts in special ‘Reading Rooms’ in Brussels, a plan criticised by Member States and MEPs.
Industry is well aware of the benefits TTIP presents, and are acting to make their mark on negotiations through this crucial period. Citizens and their representatives need to do the same, in whatever avenues they can find. Our regulatory and law-making processes should not be treated like bargaining chips in a trade deal. They are ours to defend, and we need to do so sooner rather than later.