Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

Opinion

EU and US both threatened by secret trade talks

  • "A key fear is a dispute mechanism enabling corporations to claim potentially unlimited damages in secret courts" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Negotiations between the United States and European Union for a free trade agreement, which resume this week in Washington, represent one of the biggest threats we have seen in our lifetimes to progress towards our vision of an environmentally sustainable and socially just world on our continents.

The deal – known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – is billed as the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history.

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It is being touted as a means to boost trade and create jobs, but in reality the US already has free trade with Europe, and vice versa. Tariffs are already low and the exchange of goods and services is robust.

Our two organisations are both deeply concerned that the negotiating objectives for an agreement have little to do with free trade and everything to do with corporate power.

TTIP risks being a partnership of those who seek to prevent and roll-back democratically agreed safeguards in areas such as food and chemical safety, agriculture and energy.

What we fear the negotiations really aim for is a massive weakening of standards and regulations which are for the protection of people and our environment.

Such rules are branded ‘trade irritants’ making them seem like an annoying itch for the corporations which have to adhere to them. These companies would therefore like to see them removed, irrespective of the fact that the very reason for these rules’ creation is to protect citizens, consumers and nature.

Friends of the Earth US and Friends of the Earth Europe know what it is to be partners. We believe our governments should be partners too in building a more equitable and sustainable future. But our common analysis is that the TTIP is unlikely to do this.

For the time being we see corporations and financiers as the only partners. And we certainly don’t see citizens as partners when the details of the negotiations are being kept secret from the public.

This week’s talks, like the previous rounds, will happen behind closed doors. The negotiating texts will be kept secret from the public but not from the approximately 600 corporate representatives who have been named ‘cleared advisors’ for the United States.

Partnership for profits

More reason for our fear that this is a partnership for profits, not people or planet, is the provision of an ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) mechanism – perhaps the most dangerous TTIP negotiating objective.

This would enable corporations to claim potentially unlimited damages in secret courts or ‘arbitration panels’ if their profits are adversely affected by environmental or consumer regulations.

These investment suits are tried before business-friendly tribunals composed of corporate lawyers, bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments. Even expected future profits are compensable.

Under other existing investor-state agreements challenges to environmental policy are already being brought by oil and gas companies, mining operations, the nuclear industry, and pharmaceutical giants which deem that their investment potential and related profits are being damaged by regulatory or policy changes.

We believe there is much for American and European citizens to be concerned about in these trade talks – not least the ISDS.

Also at stake are regulations on genetically engineered products, food safety, toxic chemicals, highly polluting fuels, and many others.

The EU’s fuel quality directive, which disadvantages tar sands oil and other fuels with a high carbon footprint, is on US Trade Representative Mike Froman’s hit list. And food safety measures have been targeted as trade barriers, including restrictions on imports of beef treated with growth hormones, chicken washed in chlorine and meat produced with growth stimulants.

Friends of the Earth in Europe and the United States are determined to alert policymakers and the people about the deception and danger in the current course of the TTIP negotiations. We are calling for an end to the secrecy.

People, not corporations, should determine the future of the transatlantic economy, including what kind of future we want for our children.

Magda Stoczkiewicz is director of Friends of the Earth Europe and Erich Pica is president of Friends of the Earth United States.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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