WHAT IS TTIP?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will create the largest free trade zone in the world. In 1995 the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue was set up by a group of major corporations to lobby for the removal of regulatory barriers that restrict profits between the EU and the US.
The Transatlantic Economic Council was founded in 2007 and by 2011 the European Commission and US officials had begun talks with individual companies and business lobbyists. In 2013, Barack Obama announced fresh negotiations with aspirations of reaching a TTIP agreement by 2015.
Negotiations are ongoing and much of it is smoke and mirrors, with some leaked documents rising to the surface. Technically, TTIP is an international treaty and as such cannot force the European Parliament to change its laws or override the autonomy of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Pro-TTIP politicians are keen to point this out. However, in order for an agreement to be reached, both sides want to see changes, and behind those changes lie agribusiness lobbyists and the corporations with the greatest interests at stake making the loudest noise. Alarmingly, it seems that the European Commission is listening. It has already begun to deregulate policies in preparation for TTIP, such as relaxing bans on pesticides and ending a ban on imports of live US pigs and beef sprayed with lactic acid. At a time when there is a public calling for greater protections and transparency, TTIP is a move into the shadows.
The danger is in how laws are implemented and new laws developed under the cloak of TTIP. It is the footnotes and what lurks between the lines that pose the greatest threat. Once an agreement is reached - and by that time much of the damage may have already been done - there will be room to move around inside it. The 'rendezvous clause' is one method of doing this and is common in many Economic Partnership Arrangements (EPAs), where it is put in place to iron out issues unresolved during negotiation, but in effect facilitates the continuation of negotiations after an agreement has been ratified. An example of how the fine print matters and how it can get abused is the EU's Regulation 1107/2009, which allows for the use of banned pesticides, in cases of emergency, for up to 120 days. This loophole has been exploited and a report by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe raises concerns over the extensive and growing misuse of this clause.
By transferring power from elected governments to corporations, TTIP promotes a shift from politics to profits and in doing so, compromises the needs of the people and bypasses democracy. This is reflected in the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), an investor protection mechanism with a private justice system. It would enable companies to sue governments if they implement legislation that would directly affect their profits, such as banning harmful chemicals or processes. Even without an ISDS in place, the TTIP consensus that objectives be met taking into account technical and economic feasibility and ensuring the least trade restrictive option, could mean that future regulations for emerging products and processes, such as those using synthetic biology, could be considered 'barriers to trade', creating a regulatory ceiling.
What TTIP threatens:
- Regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones, cloned animal products, steroids, pesticides, additives and chemical processes in food production are under scrutiny and will be vulnerable to harmonisation. The US has a considerably more toxic system in place, with the majority of processed foods containing some, if not all, of the above. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) 2014 Report on Technical Barriers to Trade explicitly targets EU protective measures as barriers to trade, such as those concerning pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals , despite the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s review of the scientific understanding of endocrine disputing chemicals, concluding that there is no safe threshold level of exposure. At a time when we are only just beginning to understand the impact of industrial chemicals on our food, we should be working towards greater regulation not deregulation.
- The amount of pesticides allowed to remain on food when it reaches the consumer is measured by limits known as 'maximum residue levels' (MRLs), with lower levels permitted in the EU than the US. Since the start of TTIP negotiations, pesticide lobby groups on both sides such as CropLife America and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) have lobbied for this threshold to be raised and for the US risk-assessment pattern - the likelihood of harm occurring - to prevail over the EU hazard-based approach which cautiously looks at the potential of something to cause harm.
- The USTR considers customs checks on food imports to be 'barriers to trade'. The US National Pork Council and the US Export Dairy Council want to see customs duties eliminated on all frozen poultry parts and dairy.
- In a move away from transparency, Article 8 of the EU's TTIP proposal states that labels should be "limited to what is essential and what is the least trade restrictive possible to achieve the legitimate objective pursued." This translates not as the label that most informs consumers, but as that which least distorts trade. The current debate over the rise of synthetic biotechnology and labelling of nanomaterials used in food production and packaging could be silenced if seen as a technical barrier to trade (TBT). Under The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) the USTR challenged Chile's proposed labelling of foods exceeding recommended limits for saturated fats, calories, sodium and sugar with a stop sign logo as a TBT, estimating that 80% of US prepackaged foods exported to Chile would require this warning label. These TBTs could in the future be seen as discriminatory and damaging to profits, leading to legal action and the protections of a company overriding that of the public.
- Geographical Indications for food produced in specific regions such as Feta and Gorgonzola are protected by law in the EU, whereas in the US names like Maine Lobster or Idaho Potatoes are protected under trademarks held by industry associations that are responsible for legal challenges to the use of those names. This could weaken protections for EU exports of specialist foods to the US.
- Rules set out a central level may compromise the progress of local authorities, such as a reduction in antibiotic use in France and Denmark or a ban on small cages for battery hens in California. Schemes encouraging people to buy local produce could also be scraped as these would discriminate against foreign imports, further isolating small farms and local sustainable food initiatives.
- In the US, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) does not prohibit uncertified substances from entering the market and puts the responsibility of proving the safety of a substance with the public regulator, not the manufacturer. TSCA does not require chemical suppliers to provide any data, which places regulators in a catch-22 because they need to have information that a chemical presents a risk before they can ask the manufacturer to provide information regarding its safety. The EU equivalent, REACH, has a 'no data; no market' approach and requires that the supplier prove the uses of its chemicals are safe before it goes on sale. As a result, many controversial substances are in existence, such as the pesticide glyphosate (patented by Monsanto as RoundUp) which is associated with bee colony collapse and deemed by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer to be a probable carcinogen. Under the EU's precautionary principle, glyphosate will continue to be banned in the EU until evidence proves otherwise.
- The European Commission is aware that an increased productivity will create 'dangers for both natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity.'
- The Commission's impact assessment also estimates that TTIP will add an extra 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, compromising the EU's emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
- US export of shale gas to Europe will dramatically increase fracking in the USA and open up a dialogue that could challenge European laws - see Lone Pine Resources Inc. v. The Government of Canada.
- The USTR has expressed an ambition to 'address the operation of any designated monopolies and state-owned enterprises' - such as health, education and water. While the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Commission have agreements in place safeguarding public services, in reality they are weak and unlikely to survive TTIP. Since the start of negotiations, the European Commission has actively sought to further limit these provisions. As it is structured, privatisation under TTIP would be virtually permanent, so that if a future government attempted to restore public services that have been privatised, the company would have the right to sue.
- Labour standards are also considered 'barriers to trade' when it comes to TTIP.
- The Impact Assessment Report produced for the European Commission estimates that TTIP will lead to the loss of at least 680,000 jobs across Europe alone.
- The US has lower labour standards and few trade union rights, giving it a competitive industrial model that will appeal to EU companies eager to reduce their manufacturing costs, which would inevitably force a move away from local labour.
- Bilateral trade agreements have a history of 'false promises' when it comes to jobs. In 1994 the US, Canada and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with an expectation of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Instead, it caused a dip in wages and a net loss of over one million US jobs.
- TTIP also addresses intellectual property rights and there are concerns that information will fall under greater corporate control. Copyright, patents and trademarks could be at risk, along with restrictions on data such as clinical trials that favour pharmaceutical companies.
- Civil liberties are at stake if the US again puts pressure on the EU to sign agreements like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was rejected outright by the European Parliament in 2012, as it requires internet service providers to monitor and disclose the activity of its users. Despite this, the European Commission has already diluted some of its data protection policies in preparation for TTIP.
- The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) permits companies to sue governments in private courts. This is not news to Canada.
- The European Commission has blocked public access to all negotiation and development documents related to TTIP for up to 30 years.
- Elected government officials from member states have been consistently denied requests for documents. To date, only selected passages have been released and can only be viewed under restricted conditions.
By forcing a race to the bottom, TTIP puts the interests of the public at stake and favours corporations over the sovereignty of democratically elected governments.