Russia would like the EU to vanish. Carl Bildt

TTIP-toeing towards low life quality

This July the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) completes three years of existence and its biggest wish is to become a reality. Angela Merkel is strongly in favor of the treaty and Barack Obama putting it as a priority. But the only thing Europeans should celebrate about the three-year birthday is the TTIP still did not reach an agreement from all partners involved.

The future of Europe is in the hands of the EU Commission which is responsible for the negotiations about the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership. If signed, will be the biggest trade deal in history. It would cover trade between the European Union and United States economies – half the world’s gross domestic product and nearly a third of world trade flows. In a nutshell the main objective of the TTIP is to extinguish obstacles to trade between the EU and the US. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The secrecy of the entire agreement is the first warning signal. Only a handful of people have access to the negotiation documents, but only after entering a highly secured room in which they have to leave electronic gadgets out and are observed at all times. Both American government websites – The United States Mission To The European Union and The Office Of The United States Trade Representative – do not provide any updated information about the negotiation. It merely publishes public opening statements at press conferences – the latest one from the 12th round of talks in February this year, although another conference happened again in April.

Europeans protested against the TTIP, but little was known about what was being negotiated until May 2nd when Greenpeace (Netherlands) leaked ¾ of the existing consolidated texts as of April 2016. It shows what each part of the trading table wants in each segment. What most people feared was true.

The article x.3, for example, is about agriculture. The EU wants both parties to encourage research and innovation and share practices to secure viable food production at the same time ensure the sustainable management of natural resources. The US wants to promote a robust global market for food products; avoid “unwarranted trade measures that increase global food prices, in particular through avoiding the use of export taxes, export prohibitions or export restrictions on agricultural goods; develop innovative new agricultural products and strategies that address global challenges related to the production of abundant, safe and affordable food.”

It seems obvious that the United States wants its agricultural products to enter Europe without questions asked. If signed, the TTIP could open Europe’s door to genetically modified (GM) food and crops. According to Greenpeace, “under such a system, a pesticide that is scientifically linked to cancer could still be approved, unless there is a 100 per cent consensus on its harmful effects.” It is the American way of life versus the European. Quantity versus quality. To be fair some standards are higher in the US than in EU, such as laws for car pollution and toxic chemicals in toys. These standards would also have to be revised to meet European standards.

According to The Guardian, there are over 30.000 corporate lobbyists in Brussels where the EU Commission is based and 75 per cent of European legislation is influenced by these lobbyists. The Corporate Europe Observatory website explains 597 secret TTIP meetings occurred with the EU Commission from January 2012 to February 2014 and 528 of them were with business lobbyists. The same source released emails from seed industry, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Limagrain and other GM organizations, inviting EU delegation for a private meeting. In the meetings, the seed industry wanted to focus on three priorities for TTIP: “phytosanitary issues and the role of the bilateral plant health working group can play in this respect, new plant breeding techniques (both see no specific need for regulation) and the presence of GMOs in conventional seed”, The Guardian explained.

Perhaps the biggest threat from the TTIP agreement is the investor-state dispute settlement. The ISDS would allow corporations to sue national governments if they believe their investments are unfairly restricted by regulations. A newly created special court, composed mostly by private lawyers, would have ultimate saying on the subject enforcing a country to abide by its decision.Something similar has happened when the World Trade Organization ruled against the United States in 2015 in a NAFTA suit (the North American Free Trade Agreement between US, Mexico and Canada) claiming that a US law requiring labels on foreign meat was unfair and illegal trade practice, although national courts ruled in favor of the American law.

NAFTA was also signed under the idea of a free trade agreement, but a report by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch released in 2013 to display its impacts 20 years after showed disturbing numbers. “NAFTA created new privileges and protections for foreign investors that incentivized the offshoring of investment and jobs by eliminating many of the risks normally associated with moving production to low-wage countries”. The report also proved that United States had a 580-percent-increase in trade deficit. A similar effect is expected in Europe should the TTIP is signed.

And what about Jobs? The NAFTA caused the loss of one million US jobs since it was created, while politicians promised an increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Lower labor standards and trade union rights in the US might be the perfect ingredient to increase unemployment throughout Europe if the TTIP becomes a reality.

It seems this TTIP deal is bad for both parties – and it is – but a strong lobby force behind it is ensuring that talks are ongoing at full speed. President Barack Obama wants to sign the deal before he finishes his term. David Cameron, the UK soon-to-be-ex prime-minister is strongly in favor of the TTIP while Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP party which wanted Brits to leave the EU, is against the TTIP. Maybe, just maybe, the aversion to TTIP is the only good outcome for Brexit voters.

Read more in this debate: Jocelyn Lequesne, Jacob Schrot.

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