Lately, there have been renewed efforts to start negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States of America. The negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement are expected to start in July. The EU Commission wants to push it through within two years and sees it as an instrument to get Europe out of the current economic crisis. As Greens we see many critical points – negotiations that are not transparent, the idea of a growth-driven economy as the way out of the crisis and negative changes to consumer protection standards, to name just a few.
Current state of the negotiations
At the end of May the European Parliament agreed (in a non-binding form) on a mandate for these negotiations. Unfortunately, as Greens we could neither succeed with our own motion nor with our amendments. The only positive aspect is that the Parliament voted in favour of excluding the trade of cultural and audio-visual services, hereby providing a clear signal for the cultural engagement of Europe. However, the Commission wants to keep the negotiations broad and the Council might still include audio-visual services.
Negotiations are envisaged to be finalised by 2015. The rush is made so that other stakeholders have only limited influence. Even then, this timeline does not seem very probable given the conflicts that are linked to this agreement.
Different standards and regulatory tradition
The EU and the USA already have low tariff barriers. What “impedes” trade among the two are divergent standards especially with regard to agriculture and food. It is obvious that we Greens will not accept any hormone treatment of animals, a less strict regulation of the use of genetically modified seeds and food or the highly dangerous method of fracking. There is also the fear that ACTA – which we stopped successfully at European level – will now be introduced through the backdoor. We Greens stick to high standards of data protection in Europe. In our eyes, such an agreement also threatens the current standards in regard to health and consumer protection. Furthermore, we do not trust the myth of more employment, as other free trade agreements have actually resulted in less employment. We also will not allow EU working conditions to be worse and more precarious than now.
Lack of democratic control and transparency during the negotiations
What is our first and foremost criticism as Greens is that the negotiations will be held secretly without much possible by the European Parliament, national parliaments or other stakeholders. The characteristic lack of democratic control and transparency of such negotiations is not acceptable to us. We therefore request the inclusion of parliaments and the civil society (CSO). Open and accessible negotiation documents are fundamental.
Setting global standards without consultation of all countries
Undemocratic negotiations are one problem. Another is that TTIP envisages setting global standards of trade – also in an undemocratic way. Standards that could be set by the TTIP can range from product security, consumer protection, technical standards (i.e. for medicine or internet) and food security to financial regulation etc.
Not only are CSO and parliaments excluded, so too are other countries. Negotiations of TTIP do not take into account that there are already on-going negotiations about trade standards on an international level and that these necessarily need to take a long time as there are legitimate controversies to be sorted out. The TTIP thus will not only have an impact on the EU and the USA but will affect the standard setting of all subsequent trade agreements.
A future of the WTO becomes less probable
Furthermore, the TTIP will have an impact on the current negotiations about a reform of the World Trade Organisation. At the moment, an outcome seems rather unlikely as European countries and the USA cannot find a common position. Obviously, the goal is to reform the WTO in a way which gives countries of the Global South equal chances to intervene. With the TTIP coming into effect the WTO will de facto have to stick to the global standards set by this agreement. It will therefore undermine multilateralism and favour the dominance of the EU and the USA in the economic and political sphere. Also in this regard, the TTIP will have an effect on more countries than just EU member states and the USA.
Investor to State Dispute Settlement
Another very problematic aspect in this agreement is the investor to state dispute settlement (ISDS). These non-transparent, secretly negotiated settlements mostly favour companies, thereby undermining ecological and social policies. As a consequence, EU Member States (but also the US) might have to pay compensation to companies which sue the governments that area enforcing decisions made at in a democratic way. Due to our initiative, the European Parliament decided in May that in general foreign investors should not have more legal rights than domestic investors. Even though this is a little breakthrough, we as Greens still reject this kind of dispute settlement and believe that conflicts should be dealt with in national or European courts. Therefore an agreement between the USA and the EU should not include such a mechanism of dispute settlement.
Hence, what to do?
As Members of European Parliament we have very limited possibilities to intervene in the negotiations. Nonetheless, we will use every opportunity to highlight what we stand for. First of all, we insist on transparent negotiations – we want access to the documents and in depth information of the Commission as well as the inclusion of civil society and national parliaments in the negotiations. In terms of content we fight – amongst others – for the exclusion of an investor to state dispute settlement and for strong consumer as well as data protection. Apart from that we make clear that we do not want to set global standards with the TTIP but that these need to be negotiated in a multilateral framework.
This article was originally published on the website of Ska Keller MEP.