By Peter Sharpless
The much-discussed Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership is on the verge of collapse after the French government threatened to stop the deal at its present stage due to concerns over effects on the environment and consumer rights.
This comes amid a scandal after Dutch Greenpeace leaked documents from the negotiations between U.S. and E.U. officials. The talks have been held mostly in secret but what is known about the negotiations concerns Trade Unions, campaign and environmental groups all over Europe.
What is TTIP?
TTIP is a trade agreement which is being negotiated between the E.U. and the U.S. since last February. The aim of the agreement is to reduce the regulatory barriers on trade for big business and come to a mutual recognition of each other’s trade standards. Something which could potentially affect things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It has been hotly debated how far along negotiations actually are, but a chart that has been leaked states that they’re at an advanced level.
Blocked by the French?
The French Government have threatened to block the agreement amid the scandal over leaked documents; the rebuke comes after French president François Hollande said the agreement calls into question the essential principles of France as a nation. The French prime minister spoke at a meeting of Socialist Party politicians in Paris, saying: “we will never accept questioning essential principles for our agriculture, our culture and for the reciprocity of access to public [procurement] markets,” Hollande said, according to AFP. “At this stage [of talks] France says, ‘No.’”
Friends of the earth and pig farmers
Dutch farming unions and environmental groups including leading pig and poultry farming figures and the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth have made their opposition known by condemning TTIP in an opinion piece in the Volkskrant newspaper. Leading farmers and livestock farmers claim that TTIP will flood the European market with lower standard agricultural products, produced in America. They claim that the agreements leave no room for production standard requirements, apart from a brief mention of food safety. It goes on to state that the E.U. and the U.S. have fundamentally different standards for allowing products and materials on to the market. Although the European Commission and the Dutch Government maintain that standards will not be lowered, those involved in the article feel that offers by no way of a guarantee.
What about the Germans
Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s public admission on a recent trip to Europe that German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the agreement, 70 percent of Germans disapprove of the proposed agreement according to a new poll conducted by German broadcaster ARD; according to the same poll 83 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with how the Government has handled the negotiations.
Making a compression between Europe in terms of legal standards is easy. In America, there are no legal standards regarding animal welfare, pollution, and food safety and the U.S. working conditions are less stringent than in the E.U., leaving opponents to heavily criticize the deal.
Support for TTIP
Support for the free trade agreement has come in the form of businesses, European governments and the U.S. The U.K.’s Conservative government led by David Cameron had been a supporter of the pact but the U.K. Government have since cooled their response to it; stating that the deal requires the U.K. to put in more than it gets out.
Barack Obama is the main supporter of the deal and used his recent trip to Germany to promote it. He and supporters alike stress that the deal would “create the world’s largest freetrade zone. They claim that it would allow for a more integrated market place that would help small business by opening up makers and making customs processes easier. An example, they say, would be a reduction on trade tariffs.
What happens next?
The deal isn’t completely dead in the water but it is struggling for air; and it is looking increasingly unlikely after these latest setbacks that the deal will get the go ahead. For the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to become law it requires ratifying by each one of the 28 member states of the E.U.; and with protests springing up and persisting in various European cites, it is an uphill challenge in which the hill keeps growing to get TTIP enshrined in law. This latest round of negotiations was the 13th and on conclusion of the round the EU’s chief negotiator for TTIP Ignacio Garcia Bercero said in a statement: “On the E.U. side we are ready to work hard to try to conclude these negotiations in 2016 but, only if the substance of the deal is right. It needs to be the most ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement ever concluded between either us or the U.S.”