free trade talks:
the environment and consumer safety.
By: Job Kantelberg
In this specific case, tariffs are only a minor point on the agenda. Tariffs between the US and the EU are very low already, for the vast majority of products they are under 3%. The talks do not focus on tariffs, but on the harmonization of regulation. This should make it more attractive for companies from the US to invest in European countries and vice versa. A number of NGOs have recently expressed their worries that this could potentially seriously hamper the possibilities of governments to maintain regulatory measures protecting the environment and consumer safety. Magda Stoczkiewicz, the director of the NGO Friends of the Earth Europe stated she is “more concerned than ever that big businesses will see this deal as a chance to get rid of laws that were put in place to protect citizens and the environment.” The root of these concerns is the formation of an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) mechanism that should enable businesses to claim damages from governments if they are disadvantaged by regulations. NGO’s expressed the concerns that this will lead to attempts to remove regulations put in place to protect the environment, food safety as well as regulations on genetically engineered products, toxic chemicals and highly polluting fuels. They fear that the courts that will be formed and that will be responsible for investor-state dispute settlement will be prone to heavy corporate influence because they are not subject to public scrutiny and surpass national legislative systems. This could potentially lead to a situation in which democratically instituted regulations will need removal because of the possibility of endless claiming of compensation by corporations feeling disadvantaged by them. Will the TTIP follow the route of ACTA?
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It is apparent that the EU cannot allow the EU-US free trade talks to end in a similar manner as the ACTA-talks, that caused a public backlash resulting in their dismissal by the European Parliament, did. Still, there are many similarities between the processes in which both treaties were negotiated. The secret nature of the trade talks invites politicians and NGO’s to speculate about the possible dangers of the treaty. Transparency of the process should be fostered to make sure the European Parliament will not again reject an EU-US treaty, potentially seriously hampering EU-US relations. The Commission is aware of this and has indeed organized meetings in which NGOs and politicians were invited to convene with EU delegation leaders about the progress of the talks, but the objections of NGOs we have summarized before show that this has not cleared the air completely. It is clear that the European Commission is nervous that another painful failure could be at hand: on the 22nd of November it organized a meeting for member states to advise them “how best to go about communicating an EU-US trade deal to the public and national media”. It is clear that the European Commission will have to overcome many hordes before it will be able to successfully conclude the negotiations with the US. It should take into account the importance of regulation protecting environment and consumer safety while at the same time trying to strike a deal that gives investors incentives to invest in European countries. If the process is not carefully managed, the TTIP could easily turn out to be another failure. This would not only deprive the faintly recovering European economy of an opportunity to grow, but could also damage EU-US relations that are already under stress since the NSA scandals and the failure of ACTA.