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29 May 2014
The TTIP agreement: all but sustainable
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), if approved, will significantly intensify the economic trade and cooperation between two of the most dominant political, economic and military actors in the world, the United States and the European Union – or at least this is the intention. As such, it will significantly impact the current geopolitical and economic scenario of intercontinental commercial trade and growth. With this in mind, it would be negligent of negotiators to not see TTIP in the context of global climate change and the overconsumption of natural resources.
Despite the increasing coverage in the media and extended discussions in civil society in the last number of months, the secretiveness regarding the negotiations and the low level of information available to the public is significant. For instance, in Italy, my home country, the most important media outlets are generally ignoring the issue. In Germany, where I now live, the debate is more public, but the interest is seen by many as a specialised concern. The lack of public knowledge is worrying when we consider the speed at which negotiations are developing. The 5th round of negotiations just finished in the US, with the 6th planned for July in Brussels.
Not least because of this void of information, questions are beginning to be asked about TTIP’s impacts on standards, regulation and the environment. The agreement has failed to consider what is a watershed moment for governments worldwide - the latest scientific report on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report leaves no room for doubt that climate change is human-induced, and urges a significant global response to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In short, we need to use all the tools at our disposal to tackle what is the most pressing issue of our time.
The lack of consideration for the climate crisis in these talks is telling. It indicates that despite the EU's rhetoric on its commitment to fighting climate change, trade policy remains tied to outmoded ideals that have the potential to do more harm than good. The developed world has not changed many of its problematic environmental practices or addressed its patterns of over-consumption, despite the consequences for the climate. If we are to make significant leaps in addressing this challenge, our trade policies must help not hinder that effort.
It is not yet clear whether both negotiating teams will find enough common ground for TTIP to be finalised. Even less is known about what the terms a final deal might look like or what new regulatory landscape it will leave us with. What is certain, however, is that the over all aim to increase trade and spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic has failed to factor in the global climate reality that we now face. And as such, we are now dealing with a TTIP agreement that can be regarded as outdated and unsustainable. We have to rethink the economy and how it is organised. Climate change demonstrates the failures of the current economic model, including its intercontinental trade system.
But TTIP is not only unsustainable from an environmental point of view. The agreement is being constructed in a way that brings advantages primarily to big industries (for example the car industry, the footprint of which is also part of the problems I have just mentioned), as small and medium size businesses are not operating on the global markets. Only multinational actors have the resources to operate intercontinental economic trade. Giving further advantages to these big actors could damage local economies – as small and medium size enterprises are unlikely to be able to compete with such forces. At a time when we need more local, robust economies, TTIP could serve to hollow them out.
Considering the global environmental risks that we are facing already as well as our ailing local economies, our goal should be to move to energy and resource efficient local modes of production. The scenario presented to us under TTIP is of further intensified consumer-based intercontinental trade, which if brought to its conclusion, is almost guaranteed to mean an end of natural resources as we know them. It pushes us in this direction, even through in our rational minds we know we need to do the opposite.
That is why it is more than necessary to make a comprehensive evaluation of the ecological footprint of this agreement, given that it encompasses two of the most industrialised and therefore consuming regions in the world. This analysis should take account of the consequences of the polluting industries it will benefit, as well as the threats to food safety, family farmers, internet freedom, workers’ rights, access to medicines, financial regulation and the further impact on the climate.
Considering all these factors, TTIP’s outdated and unsustainable approach is in bad need of readdressing. It would be best to stop negotiations altogether and delay them until a new and environmentally conscious comprehensive impact analysis can be undertaken.
There is a need for new forms of global cooperation to deal with the biggest threats of our time, one of which is climate change. This form of cooperation has to be sustainable and should replace global commerce and trade with continental and local commerce and trade. Otherwise we risk entering into a new paradigm, a global situation that is so critical that it puts in danger next future generations and the whole planet.