Too Many Cooks on the Trade Agreement Spoil the Broth


Thousands of plucked chicken, hanging headfirst on an assembly line to get washed down with chlorine. A well-established method in the United States’ meat production to prevent salmonella. But also a scene that caused an outcry in the European Union, where this treatment is forbidden and released a wavy debate. About the negotiations on the EU-US trade partnership.

critics worry about food safety
“What we are arguing about is, how the United States can undermine chemical regulations and how do we force the Europeans to take chickens that are dunked in toilet chemicals,“ Jaydee Hanson, the policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, says cynical. Hanson, a tall man with graying hair is puffed up by the negotiations of the European Union and the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. “TTIP is about undermining the U. S. and European regulations,“ says Hanson. “It is not about lowering tariffs, because tariffs are already really low. It is about undermining the phytosanitary standards in the world trade organization agreement, so that the U.S. companies do not have to obey by them.“

Hanson is not alone in his opinion. Several members of NGOs, like the UK World Development Movement or Friends Of The Earth, form under the Hashtag #noTTIP. Only on July 24th a leaked document revealed, that the present negotiations threaten food safety. The differences in how the European Union and the United States handle food regulations or labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms, make negotiating complicated. Critics of this trade partnership also condemn the impact of the big food companies on the negotiation process.

October: The 7th negotiation round takes place in Maryland
The sky is grey and the American flag lops rain-drenched next to a 121 year old brick building wit a manorial portico. It is the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where the 7th negotiation round on the trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU takes place, this first week of October. Outside at the driveway a dozen people huddle together, united by their identical red t-shirts.

“TTIP is not only about trade. It is about undermining public interest regulations,“ says Arthur Stamoulis, the director of the Citizens Trade Campaign. The bearded man carries a bundle of fact sheets with the headline “Critics of EU-US Trade Negotiations“.

Predictions, however, confirm the aim of the negotiated partnership to remove trade barriers and set global standards, and evidence an enormous financial benefit. Under the authority of the Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, the European Commission forecast in 2013, that this trade partnership could provide an economy growth by more than €119 billion per year, or about $150 billion annually. For an American family that would imply an extra $827 each year and an extra $630 for an average European household.

controversies about labeling on both sides of the Atlantic
“In agriculture trade, number one import from Europe to the U.S. is wine. About five billion worth of wine,“ Hanson says visualizing the EU-U.S. trade relationship. “But we are exporting about two or three billions worth of soya that is genetically modified“. The add-on ‘genetically modified’ that Hanson mentions is one of the controversies in the negotiated trade partnership. The European Union and the United States have different food standards in many areas. Other than the United States, the European Union demands that genetically modified food has to be labeled.

“Yes, there is no obligatory federal labeling requirement of GMO in the U.S.. It is not an issue that is being discussed in TTIP.“ Thea Emmerling, the Minister Counselor for Food Safety, Health and Consumer Affairs at the Delegation of the European Union in Washington DC, confirms.

More than twenty years of strengthening ties
Emmerling reminisces about the ties between the European Union and the United States and cites the New Transatlantic Marketplace in this respect. “TTIP is not the first attempt, there have been several attempts between the EU and the U.S. to consolidate their trade relation,“ she says. That was back in the late 1990s, with the aim to abolish trade barriers between both states. The decade in between was minted by various steps of economic approximation, some by the Transatlantic Economic council in 2007.

The starting shot for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was fired last year by The United States-European Union High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth. The first negotiation round took place in June 2013, lead by Dan Mullaney of the U. S. Trade Representative and Ignacio Garcia Bercero of the European Commission in the roles of the Chief Negotiators. Since then the negotiations continue to rotate every few weeks between Washington, DC and Brussels. A close state’s partnership that could have an enormous impact on the global economy.

“TTIP would comprise roughly 40 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP) and 30 percent of world trade,“ as Andreas Freytag, Peter Draper and Susanne Fricke wrote in their article The Impact of TTIP, that has been published by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in 2014. The ongoing globalization has changed trade relations. And due to various trade channels, it gotten nearly impossible for consumers to track the distance a single product covered, before ending up in a grocery store. On the other hand different labeling requirements and safety regulations in food issues disrupt the trade of grocery products. These differences have made critics of the negotiated trade partnership anxious on both sides of the Atlantic.

TTIP a Trojan Horse – the impact of the food industry
“The content of the negotiations on TTIP is not necessarily what the citizens get to hear from the media,“ says Emmerling. Her voice sounds as she were tired of the critics’ anxiety. Across the summer the EU- U.S. partnership was named by various online media as a Trojan Horse. Critics disapprove of the lack of transparency and suspect that the trade negotiations prioritize profits before public health.

“Why should we have to rely on leaks?,“ says Hanson of the Center for Food Safety, bristling at the transatlantic negotiations. “The U.S. and Europe are good friends, there is no argument for secrecy“. But however, Hanson supposes there still is a reason for concealment. In his opinion the EU labeling requirements are a thorn in the flesh of the big U.S. companies. Hanson assumes that the leading U.S. producers, with Monsanto, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola at the top, might be able to increase their exports to Europe without the strict EU labeling requirements.

“You know, the big companies don´t have to lobby much on TTIP. Because their former staff are the negotiators,“ Hanson says with a sardonic laugh. “We have former trade lawyers as our main representatives!“

By open stakeholder events transparency shall be improved
The U.S. and EU negotiators try to face the disbelief of critics with an open stakeholder event scheduled at every round of the negotiations to open the debate for NGOs and stakeholders. By this, the negotiators try to make the discussions of the negotiation table more transparent. “It is an open process that includes not only citizens, but also the industry,“ says Emmerling of the EU delegation in Washington DC, appeasing Hanson´s misgiving. Her words are followed by a pondering silence, before she admits “The U.S. Trade Representative has an expert advisory system, where business voices are very well represented.“ She chooses her words with caution. Emmerling doesn’t want to take sides, as she explains.

By noon the clouds cleared away, but the activists in the red t-shirts are still standing outside in front of the National 4-H Youth Conference Center, they want their voices to be heard.

It is public, that the food industry is integrated in the negotiations. But the question of how big the impact of the businesses on food safety regulations is, still remains.

“The industry might wish this or the other thing,“ Emmerling alludes to the critics’ concern that the big food companies aims to undermine food safety regulations. “But the negotiations are negotiations between public officials from both sides of the Atlantic, who take into account the opinions from various stake holders, and both have to agree to move forward with an issue.“ By saying this, Emmerling concedes that there are retarding factors for the negotiations. At the same time she mentions the importance of a continuing, strong trade partnership between the European Union and the United States.

Today there is still no outcome set in stone
“We don´t necessarily overlap,“ Emmerling puts the challenges of the food safety debate on the trade negotiations in a nutshell. “The chapter about food regulations is difficult because of the different legislations of the EU and the U.S.,“ she says and sighs.

Two days after the demonstration of the dozen activists in front of the National 4-H Youth Conference Center, the 7th negotiation round on the EU-U.S. trade partnership ended. As a token of unity the Chief Negotiators Dan Mullaney and Ignazio Garcia Bercero stood side by side on stage to speak to the press. “We will not compromise on the protection of the environment, health, safety, consumers, data privacy or any other public policy goal,“ Bercero said firm as he would try to remediate a possible distrust of the public.

food safety regulations as retarding factor for the negotiations
Although the European Union had already handed in two proposals for the current negotiation round, the chapter of food safety regulations was not discussed in this round. The negotiators of the United States deferred this chapter to the next negotiation round.

“The United States is not interested to force anybody to eat anything that they don´t want to eat,“ Mullaney said, as he wanted to allude, that the assembly lines with the chloride washed chickens won´t reach the EU. Even after the 7th negotiation round, the discrepancies between the two states are still apparent and illustrate, that the EU and the U.S. are not only separated geographically, but also in their mindset.

A sense of shakiness unifies all parties concerned
But there is one thing that unifies the critics and negotiators. Be it the activists in the red t-shirts in front of the brick building with the rain-drenched American flag, or the men and inside at the negotiation table. All are unified by a sense of shakiness, what the outcome of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will effectuate. “TTIP is not black and white“, states Emmerling from the EU delegation in Washington DC, “it is a multicolored text, how we want to work together in the future.“

Credit : Ramona Drosner