Negotiations ignore the recent Paris agreement to reduce CO2 emissions and label high regulations on pesticides and GMOs as “barriers to trade”.
Our suspicions have come true. United States is pressing European negotiators to significantly reduce regulation levels in some of the thorniest issues of the trade agreement known as the TTIP.
A leaked document, which we have gained access to, reveals the American position for the first time, on black and white. The document shows the enormous influence of European and American lobbies on the negotiators of the agreement.
Basically, according to the leaked document, Washington is trying to modify the legislative process in the EU. In some of the most controversial issues related to the environment and health, the United States aims to reduce the standards of European regulation.
The cosmetics industry and the use of pesticides in the agricultural industry are two of the most obvious examples. That is the US position in the negotiations on food, agriculture, trade barriers and environmental protection and health of consumers.
Greenpeace Netherlands was handed a juicy document last April, just at the beginning of the last round of talks in New York.
The draft, 248 pages long, provides substantial information on the European position and especially the US position, which has been kept secret until today at the express wish of the Administration of Barack Obama.
In his recent visit to Europe, Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need to accelerate negotiations. In view of the positions of both parties, the agreement will not be closed this year.
The growing rejection in public opinion in several countries and even between government parties as the French Socialists or Austrian ultras, emphatic winners in the last election are examples of the great differences that are exhibited by the two negotiating teams.
Although Europe has been very conciliatory in public, the text includes details on “very difficult discussions” on many issues, including those related to the cosmetics industry.
In the United States authorities allow the use of animals in laboratory tests; Europe rejects such practices. The European side sees “a very limited ability to set a common position” about it.
Obama and Merkel conspired to close the negotiations this year, but the document shows that this is only possible if Europe significantly lowers measures to ensure consumer protection and regulatory standards.
Negotiating worse health and environmental issues is hard enough and if the current political mess is added to the mix, it is likely that lobbyists will have to battle much longer before reaching an agreement. In both Europe, mainly France and Germany, and the United States, political groups and their candidates are forcefully rejecting TTIP.
The same thing happens in the US, where both liberals and conservatives have shown their opposition to both the TPP and the TTIP.
In the political campaign, Donald Trump has been clear about his intention not to enter agreements that steal America’s right to decide for itself, while Bernie Sanders has also spoke in opposition to the corporate take-over.
The two great critics in Europe have so far been the lack of transparency and the suspicions that the agreement may lead to a reduction of the normative standards of the Union.
Two and a half years ago, at the beginning of the negotiations, Europe and the United States put the emphasis on the economic benefits of the agreement, describing how the TTIP would increase GDP and create tens of thousands of jobs.
These benefits have been proven increasingly uncertain, which has forced both sides to find another narrative: the possibility that the TTIP allows the powers that sign the TTIP to dictate regulatory standards to the rest of the world.
The leaked document makes clear the US position on the matter, with some surprising details: the European Commission considers that the US federal government is the only relevant Administration to set regulatory standards while Washington sets the European partners -the European Commission and national governments as such. The text also sheds some light on suspicions of lack of transparency.
These are some of the most important aspects.
In the document, there are continual references to consultations with big companies and employers, to the point that on sensitive issues such as agriculture and the chemical industry negotiators come to admit that they can not make a decision without consulting with industry.
“The United States says that its position has to consult the rates on chemicals with the chemical industry,” says the document. Europe goes further: sometimes presents offers and counter offers “based on the joint position of European and American industries” in the agricultural negotiations. NGOs and trade unions have repeatedly complained that their access to the negotiators is much more limited.
The document also reveals the creation of numerous committees, formed by officials, who in regulation may condition the ensuing discussion, according to Greenpeace. “The business sector has opportunities to participate in decision-making to intervene in the early stages of the process,” says the environmental organisation.
The great value of the leaked document is that for the first time it makes clear the US position on key aspects of the agreement. Washington wants direct access to decision-making in Europe on the regulatory aspects.
In European debates on the standardisation process regarding regulation, the US experts will dominate, “with no guarantee of reciprocity”. Washington insists again and again on confidentiality when sharing information from companies in all matters relating to chemicals.
Overall, the EU has the highest standards in environmental and health protection, although the application is not always as strict, as shown by the Volkswagen scandal. Europe does not allow imports of US beef treated with hormones, due to its links to cancer and other health concerns.
The EU also has stricter rules in the chemical sector, pesticides or anything concerning genetically modified organisms GMOs, which in the document is labeled as Modern Agriculture Technology.
The US State Department sees those rules on agriculture, pesticides, chemicals meat or treated with hormones as “barriers to trade”..
The leaked document reveals a reduction in environmental protection by both parties. It ignores the recent Paris agreement to reduce CO2 emissions.
Additionally, the position of the negotiators also overlooks the exceptions permitted by the World Trade Organization for a country to restrict trade relations “to protect the life or health of humans, animals and plants” or to “conserve natural resources”.
Both the environmental and consumer protection aspects of the text is inconclusive, but there is a clear bias in US contributions, always in the direction of a kind of competition imposed on downward agreed standards and not to implement new regulations unless strictly necessary and only if there is a prior cost-benefit analysis.
As many NGOs and opposition groups had suspected, the TTIP puts corporate interests at the heart of political decision-making, in detriment of the environment and consumer protections.
We knew that the starting position of Europe was poor, with few or no red lines. We now know that the US position is even worse and that it does not respect those lines.
The Union and the United States give different treatments to the same products. This happens, for example with glyphosate. The entry of pesticides and herbicides in the Union is subject to approval by the European Commission.
On April 13, the European Parliament proposed major hindrance to glyphosate herbicide, which despite having been scientifically proven to cause cancer, it is strongly defended by the US administration.
The WHO itself believes that it may be carcinogenic. The recent ruling of the European parliament calls for a ban on its use outside “professional” application.
Authorities have asked for vetoing glyphosate near schools and playgrounds, public parks, but the Parliament’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation.
The TTIP agreement aims to promote the business of European companies across the Atlantic and vice versa. To solve possible disputes that companies may find on one side with the authorities on the other side, the pact sets a dispute resolution agreement with a technical arbitration to avoid the courts.
After a formidable public objection, Brussels has proposed a panel of judges. In the filtered version of the text there is not a single reference to it from the part of the US. The feasibility of this proposal, therefore, is even more doubtful than ever before.