Consumer protection is not a barrier to trade and longstanding standards are not a bargaining chip in a transatlantic give and take exercise, said consumers' chief, Monique Goyens, in an interview with EurActiv.
Monique Goyens is the director general of BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation. She spoke to EurActiv's editor-in-chief Daniela Vincenti.
The TTIP negotiations represent a massive exercise to bring down barriers to trade. Should consumers worry about a possible weakening of existing and forthcoming standards and regulation such as consumer and environmental protection?
Consumers can in various ways benefit from a potential trade deal. However, from the beginning industry have been very vocal on which standards they want to see lowered. This would be unacceptable. Consumer protection is not a barrier to trade and longstanding standards not a bargaining chip in a transatlantic give and take exercise.
How to ensure the highest consumer protection standards?
Our yardstick is that an agreement can only be acceptable to consumers if it carries the highest standards of consumer and other protections. At the same time, the US and the EU should not be limited from adopting and enforcing more stringent standards in the presence of new technological state of the art developments.
Do you think data protection can derail TTIP?
We strongly believe data flows should be left out of the negotiations. The EU needs to first of all lock down the update of its data protection laws. The recent vote in the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament was a good step in this direction. But only once the legal update is cut and dried might a basis exist to discuss data flows to the US. The data protection regimes between the EU and US are grossly different and imbalanced. There is no common standard to discuss data privacy issues in the context of trade negotiations.
Financial services are another thorny issue. Would you say that rules can be harmonised?
What is important when it comes to financial services is that the TTIP should not roll back any financial reforms in Europe and the U.S. dealing with the consequences of the financial crisis.
However, the financial industry have made it clear they want to use the negotiations for this end. More needs to be done to protect consumers from reckless practices in the financial sector. A trade deal should not prevent the EU or US from creating strong laws.
Would say it will be easier to bring down barriers on emerging technologies, as both trading partners try to regulate totally new products—like nano and biotechnologies, or electric cars and new medical devices, for example?
This trade deal can help set standards in areas which will be perceived as global such as nano or electric cars, benchmark standards in their respective areas. However, this would only work if consumer protection will be the guiding principle for getting there.
But when it comes to chemicals for instance, the fact that the US does not recognise the precautionary principle does not bode well. This principle says preventive measures are acceptable to prevent possible harm also in the absence of conclusive evidence. The principle is non-negotiable from a consumer point of view.
Do you think the Commission and negotiators have learned the lessons of ACTA, which was stopped by civil society angry at the behind-doors negotiation style? Do you have the feeling NGOs and other stakeholders are properly involved?
We see a change of policy within the European Commission, but it certainly does not go far enough. Transparency is a fundamental principle. Without this suspicions will only be fuelled about the real objectives of this agreement. Publication at key stages of the negotiating texts and a possibility to give input on a regular basis are crucial to build trust.
Despite the challenges, would you give a 50/50 percent chance the deal to succeed, or much less?
t is in the hand of negotiators to come to an acceptable deal. Consumer groups on both sides of the Atlantic will ask their governments and parliaments only to accept a deal which delivers a fairer, safer and more vibrant marketplace for consumers.