German advisory council highlights TTIP risks

SRU's report highlighted genetically modified crops as one of the main concerns raised by TTIP. [William Murphy/Flickr]

TTIP’s detractors continue to fear the impact it could have on environmental and consumer protection and now the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) has criticised certain aspects after carrying out careful analysis. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Both the EU and the USA want to finalise TTIP by the end of the year. On Friday (26 February), chief negotiators Ignacio Garcia Bercerno (EU) and Dan Mullaney (USA) presented a brief overview of how things currently stand. However, observers have doubts that the two sides will make any real progress any time soon.

The SRU, which advises the German government, has now revealed that it has serious concerns over certain issues relating to the free trade agreement. In a report the council warned that TTIP could have a negative impact due to lax handling of environmental issues, as well as eroding democracy. It called for “matters of public interest” to be preserved. In a statement, the SRU urged the negotiators not to dismiss the concerns that were raised, but to take them firmly into account.

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According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 53% of Europeans still support TTIP. However, the same survey showed that 59% of Germans and 70% of Austrians were opposed to the FTA.

Its supporters believe that TTIP will boost trade significantly between the EU and USA. However, lawyer Christian Calliess, who oversaw the SRU’s investigation, warned that protection standards would have to be put on the same footing as commercial interests.

TTIP aims to harmonise environmental, consumer protection and technical regulations between the two blocs. This has proved to be the main obstacle to negotiators and the prime bone of contention with anti-TTIP activists, as the EU and USA have different standards when it comes to, among other things, cosmetics, use of chemicals, status of cloned animals and genetically modified crops.

The SRU highlighted the latter point as a particularly significant issue. Food products and animal feed that contain GM substances have to be marked in the EU, but this is not the case across the Atlantic.

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How environmental risks are approached is also a matter on which the two sides differ greatly, with Europe implementing the precautionary principle through environmental law. Cosmetic products are also always subject to compulsory authorisation in the EU.

Experts have called upon the precautionary principle to be woven into the final TTIP text. Environmental protection requirements should not be given low priority and standards should not be dropped.

The way in which both TTIP and CETA, the free trade agreement signed between the EU and Canada, were initially started has also come in for criticism, as it is alleged that the European Commission relied too heavily on the opinions of business associations.

“National legislation must be preserved and strengthened in the final TTIP agreement,” said Christiane Gerstetter, a legal expert at the Ecologic Institute in Berlin.

TTIP for dummies

In the wake of the global economic crisis and the deadlocked Doha round of international trade talks, the EU and the United States started negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which seeks to go beyond traditional trade deals and create a genuine transatlantic single market. But the road ahead is paved with hurdles.

Calliess also called for even more transparency when it comes to the negotiations. While Stormy-Annika Mildner from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) emphasised that “we do not want members of the Bundestag to be granted access to the (TTIP) reading room, it is enough that our democratically elected parliamentary representatives can”, Calliess disagreed. The lawyer added that the current set up is currently insufficient and more access to negotiation documents should be provided.

Environmentalists remain sceptical. “TTIP poses unacceptable risks to environmental and consumer protection,” said Hubert Weiger, chairman of environmental group BUND, who also cited dumping standards as another issue that is a serious concern. The German Greens even recently called upon the negotiations to be completely suspended.

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