“The top 10 myths about TTIP” – unmasked
Date: 11 November 2015
In a fit of uncharacteristic transparency, the European Commission has issued several documents directed at the public to put some “official” information out there. I picked The Top 10 Myths about TTIP for its cheeky title, with a view to assessing how convincing this information really is.
As I read through this user-friendly, colourful document, faced with the reassuring smile of Cecilia Malmström, chief commissioner of the TTIP negotiations, I cannot help but feeling a sense of lightness as my apprehensions about TTIP evaporate.
Why did I ever believe that multi-national corporations such as Monsanto and oil companies were trying to skew the deal their way? According to the Commission’s myth-buster, TTIP is actually mobilising hundreds of busy European and US negotiators over years to help small scale, family run businesses such as Danish pastry bakers and vegetable conserve makers in rural Spain export to the US. Europe will not have to make any concessions on safety standards or on EU governments’ rights whilst the US boundless market will open up like a Pandora’s Box for our small to medium enterprises. The future seems truly bright for Europe.
As my critical sense slowly recovers from the lull of promising little case-studies, I realise some of the logic is not right.
Interestingly, all the examples are of EU firms exporting to the US and not the other way around. There is no mention of how the conserve-maker from rural Spain, or the farmer for that matter, will compete with vegetable conserves produced on an industrial scale with high fertiliser and pesticide use, fuelled by government subsidies and packed at lower costs in Mexico, arriving on the Spanish market at the same if not a lower price.
More importantly, if the aim of TTIP is to ‘harmonise’ regulations between the EU and the US, how will the EU prevent hormone-treated beef, chlorinated chicken and meat from cloned animals, to use the commonly cited examples, from entering European markets when that is the common practice in our potential trading partner? But the interesting question is why did the US start chlorinating their chicken meat in the first place and perhaps this should ring alarm bells about importing meat from industrial scale farms in the US (for reference see Food Inc.).
It seems difficult to believe that the US would happily allow the EU to dictate the rules of this trade agreement and even change their food production techniques by agreeing to the Europe’s higher environmental and food safety standards. In fact, there are already a large number of instances where the EU has backed down on proposed new regulations protecting the environment and consumers, after being rebuked by US lobbyists for allegedly hampering negotiations on TTIP (most recently in the Independent). This gives the clear message that the EU is absolutely desperate to see this trade deal through and ready to sacrifice a lot more than its environment and consumers.
Sustainable Development and TTIP
Another good one: “7. Sustainable Development. We want a dedicated chapter in TTIP to foster sustainable development.” Sustainable development is relegated to a single chapter at the end of the agreement. I say at the end because when reading the report of each negotiation round, the most common phrase is “all the issues have been covered except sustainable development”.
On this topic, let’s talk about two important pillars of sustainable development: the Participation and the Precautionary Principles. We all know about the failure of the EU or the US to invite participation on the TTIP negotiations. The Precautionary Principle is what was, up to now, used in the EU to determine whether a product was safe or not for the environment and consumers (e.g. a type of pesticide), i.e. unsafe until proven safe. This places the burden of proof on the developer of the product. In the US, the opposite is the norm; industry-funded research, often flaw-ridden and out of date is referred to as the “sound science” on the basis of which authorities allow the products on the market. The TTIP negotiations, and attempts to harmonise regulations between the two superpowers, are putting the precautionary principle, which has served us quite well in Europe up till now, under threat.
I kept my favourite one for last: ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) “If the tribunal decides the government has [treated an investor unfairly], it can make it pay compensation. But it can’t make it change or scrap a law”. Surely, the threat of being sued for millions, if not billions, would push most governments to do the most logical thing: withdraw the law in question. Either way, it is the people that pay: if the law is withdrawn, consumers and their environment may be put at risk, whereas if the law is maintained, the costs of the lawsuit and of the potential fine will come from the taxpayers’ pockets, taking it away from public services, which is likely to encourage further austerity measures. This would also put nations experiencing financial problems (e.g. Greece, Spain and Portugal) at a greater disadvantage when it comes to protecting their consumers and their environment.
By making TTIP sound as if it is being designed for small and medium sized businesses, as it does in this factsheet, the EU commission appears as either naive or downright dishonest. There is no mention whatsoever of any of the main names behind the trade deal negotiations. These, as we know thanks to the Corporate Europe Observatory, include: Agribusinesses (Monsanto & Co.), Banks, Transport, the Oil industry including tar sands, Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals, Tobacco. These industries do not need this treaty to dominate markets and often don’t pay their taxes to our governments, but they are hoping to weasel out more profits by suing governments over any new piece of legislation that could arguably threaten their income. A world dictated by these titans of the international market is not what I call a sustainable society.