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20 May 2014
TTIP – what kind of growth?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aims to drive growth and create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic by reducing tariff and regulatory barriers to trade between the EU and the U.S. But what is really at stake here?
The TTIP puts the interests of business at the top of the list of priorities. Although seemingly trivial, this is actually the heart of the problem: if this agreement is not about citizens (their well-being, their rights, their sovereignty) but rather about profits, then this turns on its head what a government’s role should be. Moreover, a government’s right to regulate could be further weakened by the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS) whereby companies can use private tribunals to sue a government that introduces regulations (e.g. protecting the environment) which are seen as an obstacle to the number one priority: business.
The European Commission promises that the TTIP negotiations with the US will not lead to a race to the bottom on environmental protection, health and safety standards and consumer rights. We do hope that this promise will be kept. Measures that protect biodiversity and the environment, ensure access to information for consumers and protect citizens’ wellbeing are not barriers to trade. Rather, they should be the pillars of any negotiation.
Europe and the US are home to extraordinary biodiversity, which must be protected. Biodiversity is not only a precious natural asset, but also has unique cultural, social and economic significance. Without this variety of life we risk upsetting natural balances that can impact negatively on our heritage and traditional knowledge, compromising our food, our local economies, our culture and way of life. Protecting biodiversity is must be seen as a key component in adapting to and meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.
If TTIP frames food as just another commodity and treats smaller and medium size farmers simply as manufacturers in a production chain, we believe the agreement will push in favour of the wrong sort of system; industrial agriculture. The industrial production model is based on increasingly low returns for the farmer. Out of the retail price we pay, only a small amount goes to the producer, while the rest goes to intermediaries, processing industries and distributors. It is a system based essentially on increased production and cost reduction.
This mechanism is highly dependent on subsidies, provided by the taxpayer, to keep functioning. Many farmers are going out of business and there is a trend for fewer, bigger farms, which also leads to a reduction in employment. Moreover, this system imposes unsustainable costs on natural resources: it causes soil erosion, water pollution and loss of habitat for wild species. Is that the kind of growth European citizens wish for? And is that growth at all?
The fact that the negotiations are happening behind closed doors is not helping to make things clearer and certainly does not reassure Slow Food Europe. We hope that the growing public interest in the talks, as well as the upcoming 5th round of negotiations to be held in the US this week will be a chance to shed more light on TTIP, and ensure a diverse and sustainable future isn’t written off as yet another "barrier to trade" for business.