The leaked documents of current US positions in the ongoing transatlantic trade talks have made health and consumer rights organisations wary that EU legislation could still be watered down under the agreement.
The environment NGO Greenpeace on Monday (2 May) published 248 leaked pages from to the latest Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations in New York last week, revealing the US viewpoint.
Greenpeace highlighted that despite 13th rounds of negotiations, when it comes to regulatory cooperation, the US negotiators still do not respect the EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ according to the documents.
The precautionary principle, which is in the EU’s treaty, is a risk management approach to protect citizens. It means in practice that if there is any doubt over a product’s potential harm to the public or the environment, the product will not enter the single market or it will be withdrawn.
As the EU is widely considered more precautionary than the US in several key policy areas, including consumer policy, food safety and health, many consumer rights groups have – since the trade talks formally began in 2013 – been concerned that TTIP will allow policymaking that could act as an obstacle to regulations that are in Europe’s best interests.
“These leaks confirm our concerns: The US is putting its maximum requests on the table. Many of these demands boil down to an undercover attack on the EU’s way of regulating. The Commission now needs to explain how it is going to square the circle of concluding an ambitious TTIP while protecting our regulatory system,” a spokesperson from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) told EURACTIV.com.
Policy director Pieter de Pous from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said that the papers show how the US and EU efforts to deregulate would become binding to the last detail in a potential agreement.
“The ‘we don’t lower standards’ argument of the Commission is turning into a major credibility problem,” he added.
Lisette van Vliet, a senior policy adviser at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), also declared that her organisation is concerned about the TTIP talks impact on health in the EU after having read the leaked papers.
“If this deal includes chemicals, both in an individual sectoral chapter and more importantly in the regulatory coherence section, EU’s innovative and superior protection of public health through tough laws on chemicals and pesticides could be undone and the EU’s progress reducing the public’s exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals halted,” she said.
In Brussels, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU chief TTIP negotiator once again reiterated that the US is not pushing for lower standards and levels of protection in the EU.
He also mentioned that the documents published by Greenpeace don’t reflect the outcome of the negotiations and that the environment NGO has misinterpreted them.
“Quite frankly, some of the points that Greenpeace has been making on the basis of this document are flatly wrong. They say the EU in these negotiations is ignoring the precautionary principle. That is nowhere reflected in the documents,” said Bercero during a press conference.
He referred to the EU’s own position paper on good regulatory practices and cooperation which was published in March and states that nothing in the TTIP chapters can in any way affect the fundamental principles in decision-making in the EU, including the precautionary principle.
“We are not going to in anyway agree to anything that weakens that principle,” Bercero stressed.
The TTIP negotiator’s boss, Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, repeated the statements on her blog later on Monday, insisting that, “No EU trade agreement will ever lower our level of protection of consumers, or food safety, or of the environment.”
Greenpeace’s EU director Jorgo Riss, however, responded that Malmström is being “disingenuous” as long as the precautionary principle is only part of the EU position paper.
“Malmström may well promise not to undermine environmental and consumer protection, but the evidence tells a different story. In several areas the US proposes to lower EU standards, but there are no EU proposals in the leaked consolidated documents to counter this,” Riss said in a statement.
Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, policy coordinator for Health and Trade (TTIP) at the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), commented:
“While the main focus is on non-tariff barriers and the right to regulate, there are still significant tariffs on some health-harmful goods including tobacco and processed foods high in salt, sugar and fats. We must not miss the point that removal of tariffs on health-harmful goods will also further accelerate the epidemic of chronic diseases in Europe, such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and cancers. So far the Commission has neglected to evaluate the health impact, but no doubt it would offset a significant portion of the purported economic benefits of TTIP.”
Molly Scott Cato, a British MEP from the Greens, said:
“In areas as wide-ranging as the prohibition of GM food, the abolition of the EU process of chemical safety based on the precautionary principle, and the ban on cosmetic testing on animals the US demands go right to the heart of systems of environmental protection. Taken as a whole the documents prove our worst fears about a race to the bottom on environmental and social standards. They also indicate a bleak future for European farmers who will not be able to compete with the flood of poor quality US food imports.”
Negotiations between the United States and the European Union on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership began in July 2013.
The guidelines stated that the EU should seek to include provisions on investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the proposed agreement.
If the treaty is signed, it will affect almost 40% of world GDP. The transatlantic market is already the most important in the world.
The deal could save companies millions of euros and create thousands of new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. The average European household could save €545 per year and European GDP could increase by nearly 0.5%.
- July 2016: 14th round of the transatlantic trade negotiations in Brussels.
The leaked documents of the current US positions in the ongoing transatlantic trade talks make health and consumer rights organisations wary that EU legislation could still be watered down under an agreement.