Several weeks ago we learned that not all is well in the ongoing negotiations to impose Obama's landmark Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, also known as the TTIP, when unexpectedly Europe threatened to impose visas on Americans and Canadians.
As we commented at the time, this latest tension may have been driven "by the fact that the United States hasn’t yet lifted visa requirements for some EU member countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland. But more likely, this is just a bit of gamesmanship on the part of the EU. The US and European Union are in ongoing negotiation regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and there appear to be some sticking points that the two sides can’t quite come to an agreement on – namely labor, environmental, and regulatory standards."
As Reuters added, "trade negotiations between Brussels and Washington are at a crucial point since both sides believe their transatlantic agreement, known as TTIP, stands a better chance of passing before President Barack Obama leaves the White House in January."
Now, according to leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, it seems the stumbling blocks ahead of the TTIP's implementation are indeed substantial, and potentially dealbreaking. As the Guardian reports, talks for a free trade deal between Europe and the US face a serious impasse with "irreconcilable" differences in some areas.
The leaked texts also show that the two sides are at odds "over US demands that would require the EU to break promises it has made on environmental protection."
As Obama said last week during his whirlwind tour of Europe, and especially his visit to Hanover where thousands of Germans were protesting the TTRIP at the same time, he was confident a deal could be reached. "But the leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, paint a very different picture."
“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” says one internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says. Guardian adds that according to the confidential briefing, talks on engineering were also “characterised by continuous reluctance on the part of the US to engage in this sector."
The biggest concern appears to be the hypocritical stance by both sides on environmental protections: while both US and European public officials have railed for the need to safeguard the environment, the note presents a starkly different reality dictated by the corporations that are the key beneficiaries from the TTIP.
Jorgo Riss, the director of Greenpeace EU, said: “These leaked documents give us an unparalleled look at the scope of US demands to lower or circumvent EU protections for environment and public health as part of TTIP. The EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible. The prospect of a TTIP compromising within that range is an awful one. The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards.”
More details from the Guardian:
US proposals include an obligation on the EU to inform its industries of any planned regulations in advance, and to allow them the same input into EU regulatory processes as European firms. American firms could influence the content of EU laws at several points along the regulatory line, including through a plethora of proposed technical working groups and committees.
“Before the EU could even pass a regulation, it would have to go through a gruelling impact assessment process in which the bloc would have to show interested US parties that no voluntary measures, or less exacting regulatory ones, were possible,” Riss said.
Not surprisingly, environmentalists are concerned by the undue influence afforded to corporations. They say the body has loose rules on corporate influence, allowing employees of companies such as BASF, Nestle and Coca Cola to sit on – and sometimes lead – national delegations. Some 44% of its decisions on pesticides residues have been less stringent than EU ones, with 40% of rough equivalence and 16% being more demanding, according to Greenpeace.
Another cause of concern is genetically modified foods because as the Guardian writes, "GM foods could also find a widening window into Europe, with the US pushing for a working group to adopt a “low level presence initiative”. This would allow the import of cargo containing traces of unauthorised GM strains. The EU currently blocks these because of food safety and cross-pollination concerns." That won't be the case should the TTIP pass.
More importantly, it appears that the EU has not yet accepted the US demands, but they are uncontested in the negotiators’ note, and no counter-proposals have been made in these areas suggesting that far from its official stance, Europe may simply roll over on most US (and corporate) demands.
Europeans will likely see this as an act of betrayal by the negotiators: in January, the EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said [pdf] the precautionary principle, obliging regulatory caution where there is scientific doubt, was a core and non-negotiable EU principle. She said: “We will defend the precautionary approach to regulation in Europe, in TTIP and in all our other agreements.” But the principle is not mentioned in the 248 pages of TTIP negotiating texts.
The European commission has also promised to safeguard environmental laws, defend international standards and protect the EU’s right to set high green benchmarks in future.
The new leak will not placate critics of the deal, who have pointed to attempts by fossil fuel firms and others to influence its outcome, as a sign of things to come.
Finally, if there was any doubt as to who the true negotiators behind the deal are, this should clear it up: the EU negotiators internal note says “the US expressed that it would have to consult with its chemical industry on how to position itself” on issues of market access for non-agricultural goods. Where industry lobbying in regulatory processes is concerned, the US also “insisted” that the EU be “required” to involve US experts in its development of electrotechnical standards.
Finally, recall that having started off with majority public support on both sides of the Atlantic, as 55% of Germans and 53% of Americans thought the TTIP deals was beneficial for the two respective countries as recently as 2014, a recent YouGov poll found that support for the deal had tumbled to just 17% and 15% respectively...
... while those who think the TTIP is bad for Germany and the US, are now well ahead.
We doubt today's revelations will change this dire trajectory, and as a result the TTIP - which will surely be implemented due to its overwhelming corporate support - will demonstrate even more vividly just how "undemocratic" trade treaties have become in the New Normal, when they are designed to serve a handful of very special (and wealthy) interests.