07 June 2016

EU laws protecting climate, health, considered “barriers to trade” according to US Department report

US Trade Representative targets range of EU laws in 2016 Trade Estimate Report highlighting what is at stake in TTIP

Simon McKeagney, Editor

A report published by the US Trade Representative at the end of March has indicated that a series of EU regulations that protect people and the environment act as “barriers” to US trade, and questions the need for such provisions. 

US based NGO Sierra Club has distilled the “lowlights” from the 2016 report (below) showcasing how the US is targeting climate-friendly laws, as well as regulations banning pesticides, chemicals and GM crops. 

According to the USTR website, the report ‘highlights significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports’ and ‘is a companion piece to the President’s Trade Policy Agenda published by USTR in March.’  

Implications for TTIP agenda 

In April, President Obama attended one of Europe’s largest industrial trade fairs in Hannover, where he used the occasion to defend the TTIP deal. While he acknowledged that the “United States and the European Union already have the largest trade and investment relationship in the world” he went on to highlight the need for the agreement to address “…different regulations, rules, standards, all these drive up costs.” 

He also made a claim that few proponents on either side of the Atlantic are even willing to make. He suggested that TTIP will raise standards even higher than the ones currently in place in both regions:

“And I want to be clear on this- TTIP will not lower standards. It will raise standards even higher. High labour standards to protect workers. High standards to protect consumers and give them more choices. High standards to protect the environment.” 

It appears that this statement is in direct contradiction with what USTR have targeted in their 2016 estimate report. The “environment-relevant” lowlights from the report, as compiled by Sierra Club, paint a very different picture. Instead of raising standards to the highest level available, the USTR report attacks EU laws, and questions the need for complying with them. Here are some of the key criticisms the US have against some EU environmental laws: 

Environment-Relevant Lowlights from the 2016 National Trade Estimate Report

compiled by Ben Beachy, Senior Policy Advisor, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program

TTIP countries (European Union)

The U.S. takes issue with the “verification requirements” of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive – a leading climate initiative that aims to achieve 20 percent of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. The report singles out EU policies to verify that biofuels sold in the EU are made sustainably, lamenting that “U.S. conservation laws and programs” must meet the EU’s sustainability criteria for the EU to accept U.S. biofuel exports. 

The U.S. still has “concerns” about the EU Fuel Quality Directive – a program to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions – even though the EU already weakened the program in response to U.S. pressure to ignore the highly-polluting nature of tar sands oil. The U.S. would like even more opportunity for “public comment” (i.e. comment from U.S. industry) as the EU develops its methodology for calculating the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for transportation fuels. 

The U.S. objects to the EU’s policy of automatically restricting pesticides whose “intrinsic properties” pose hazards to human health or the environment. The report calls this approach “arbitrary” and argues that the dosage of such hazardous pesticides should be considered before deciding whether to allow them to be sprayed on crops. The report also argues that the EU should increase its limits on the amount of pesticide that can be sprayed. 

The report criticizes the EU’s reluctance to approve GMO crops that have been approved in the U.S. For example, the report complains that U.S. corn exports to the EU “have been adversely impacted because of concerns” that they contain GMO corn. The report does not deny that the shipments contain GMOs, but indicates that the solution is for the EU to approve those GMOs, given that the U.S. has done so.  

The report notes that corporations have had problems “complying with” the EU’s landmark regulation of chemicals, which “imposes extensive registration, testing, and data requirements on tens of thousands of chemicals” and prohibits specific hazardous chemicals. The report singles out a program “to prioritize substances that are suspected of being hazardous to human health or the environment,” accusing the program of a lack of “science-based analysis” – a common industry criticism of the EU’s precautionary approach to chemicals regulation. 

•The EU has adopted a new policy to phase out F-gases with high global warming potential. The report notes that while the U.S. “strongly supports” this objective, “some U.S. household refrigerator manufacturers” have objected to a “particular ban” in the new policy. The report cites “tight timelines for implementation” as an additional criticism of the new EU climate policy.  

•The report takes issue with a new EU policy requiring that fishery products be labeled with information such as the type of fishing gear used and where the fish was caught. The U.S. alleges that these requirements “appear more stringent” than guidelines set by an international body where agribusinesses play an influential role. 

•The report cites as a “trade barrier” the United Kingdom’s provision of subsidies to Rolls-Royce to develop “environmentally friendly engine technologies” for airplanes.  

‘Facts’, ‘misconceptions’, ‘misleading statements’ 

The US has also been on the receiving end criticism from the Commission in another TTIP area in recent days. The Commission had to privately rebuff the US Ambassador Anthony Gardner’s “facts” on agriculture, after he attacked EU Agri Commissioner Hogan for “misleading statements” in a letter to EU ambassadors.

The Commission responded by tearing down each argument presented by Gardner in a leaked letter also sent to EU ambassadors. The letter highlighted the pressure the US is exerting on the EU to change laws for the worst to accommodate the less-stringent agriculture laws in the US. It also unintentionally revealed that the EU has already made significant compromises to its’ standards and regulations in order to seal a TTIP deal this year. You can read the leaked letter here

As Obama said at the end of his speech in Hannover:

“I know the politics are hard, but we have to keep making our case. Stating the facts and dispelling any misperceptions”. 

Well, here are some facts we should all chew on. 

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