TTIP driving EU’s deregulation agenda

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The postponement vote in the European Parliament. [EEB]

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic should consider the wishes of their electorate, including the millions of citizens that have signed petitions against TTIP, argues Pieter de Pous.

Pieter de Pous is policy director at the European Environmental Bureau.

On 10 June, the European Parliament postponed a vote on the transatlantic trade negotiations aimed at endorsing the EU’s negotiating position because of political disagreements. Two days later, Democrats and Republicans came together in a rare show of support to deal a blow to President Barack Obama and his trade agenda in the US House of Representatives.

Neither of these votes, or non-votes in the case of the Parliament, are fatal for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but they demonstrate the massive amount of controversy surrounding it. It is also worth remembering that over 2 million people have signed a European Citizens Initiative against a US-EU free trade deal.

Nonetheless, on 29 June the European Parliament will continue to flog the not-quite-dead horse, when its International Trade Committee holds an extraordinary meeting to decide whether amendments to the Parliament’s draft TTIP recommendations should be put to a vote by Parliament as a whole. The idea is, in the Parliament’s words, to help “build a robust consensus” on the draft recommendations.

But the committee’s task of securing a deal that has a chance of gaining majority support in the last plenary session of the Parliament this year will not be easy.

One of the main controversies is the potential inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause, which would allow investors to take governments to for-profit arbitration tribunals rather than to domestic courts.

Social democrats oppose the inclusion of ISDS, most – though not all – conservatives and liberals think it should be in, and groups on the far left and right think the whole thing is a bad idea. It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that the inclusion of ISDS, whether in its current or a slightly ‘reformed’ form, will make it near impossible to gather a majority in the Parliament to support a final TTIP deal.

Hence, while a Parliamentary vote would not, at this stage, have any concrete influence on the negotiations, it would send an important signal to EU and US negotiators about what is considered an acceptable deal for which a majority can be found.

And once there is a deal, MEPs who today are willing to give the Commission the benefit of the doubt and are currently deriding TTIP critics with caricatures, will need to decide if they can defend the package back home. And there are plenty of reasons other than ISDS that may make them think twice.

Any final deal will, for example, almost certainly include the elimination of all remaining EU import tariffs on agriculture with sizeable consequences for EU farming, in particular the beef sector. Regulatory cooperation on issues like pesticide residues could mean significantly higher levels would be accepted in the EU. And any access to the US state level procurement market, high on the list of EU negotiators, may require the EU to bring national or even regional level policy-making into its proposals for regulatory cooperation.

But perhaps the most worrying issue at the moment is what the EU is doing now to ‘facilitate’ trade deals with the US and other countries. The EU has been trying for years to regulate gender-bending chemicals called EDCs, but since the TTIP negotiations began, the file has been stuck in the Commission. Likewise, the EU has spent years attempting to regulate the climate impact of tar sands. It finally gave up, putting forward a meaningless proposal, while concluding a trade deal with Canada, the world’s leading producer of oil from tar sands.

Under a veil of ‘more transparency’, the Commission is also working to make it easier for companies facing regulation to write their own rules through consultations on draft regulations and delegated acts. Interestingly, the US is asking the EU to adopt such a process as part of the TTIP negotiations as ‘good regulatory practices’.

These are more than just coincidences.

Of course the Commission can, as it is doing, deny these allegations. But as Douglas Coupland writes: “Given the infinite number of coincidences that could happen, very few ever actually do.”