Background update:Mar 9, 2016

EU and US mega deal sparks inflated emotions (2)

The EU and the US are negotiating a free trade and investment agreement. Negotiations are also about import tariffs but mainly about sanitary and phytosanitary standards. In the second part of this two-part series, World Poultry examines this deal which can have far-reaching consequences for agriculture.

The negotiating teams of the EU and the US deny that TTIP will go into specific files, but that does not take away the fear. “The Americans don’t just want to bring their GM crops, chlorine poultry and hormone meat to the European market,” Jürgen Knirsch of Greenpeace summarises the fear of dozens of NGOs, “they want to overthrow the pillars of European consumer protection.” The criticism mostly comes from the EU, because to most people in the US, TTIP is not really a well-known topic, says Professor Hamilton.

'US afraid of lower standards in Vietnam or Malaysia'

“The US is afraid of lower standards in Vietnam or Malaysia. Europe is seen as equivalent.” Equivalent, but certainly not better. An analysis which, incidentally, is shared by Albert Jan Maat, chairman of LTO in the Netherlands and also president of the European farmers’ organisation Copa. “I think their system is often based on science more than ours, while companies that mess up are being dealt with faster and harder. Look at the chaos in Germany during the E. coli crisis.”

The European Commission emphasised numerous times in all kinds of forums that the lowering of food safety standards is definitely not on the table. According to the Commission, the only thing that is being discussed is cooperation in setting new standards and recognising that sometimes different regulatory pathways lead to the same outcome. The idea is that both the EU and the US generally produce safe products. In cases where food on both sides of the Atlantic is considered to be safe but is produced in different ways, deals are necessary to prevent a doubling of regulatory work.Also read part one of this article

Regulatory convergence already successfully applied

Professor Hamilton stresses that regulatory convergence, as the negotiators call it, is already successfully applied in the aircraft industry. The fight between Airbus and Boeing is widely reported in the media, said the American. But if an aircraft rolls out of the hangar in Seattle and has been tested in the US, it is allowed to take off and land throughout Europe. In the early stages American and European specialists agreed upon standards and where they differ, they tested on equivalence. “If you can come to agreements about airplanes, where security is very important, then why not about food?”

The EU and the US closed a deal on equivalence of standards for organic farming before. A product that has been certified as organic in the US may also be sold as organic in the EU and vice versa. Maat stresses also that the dividing line between the US and EU is fading. “A few years ago, all sorts of sustainability issues such as animal welfare were hardly taken seriously in the US. American supermarkets now refuse certain hormone meat, here and there labelling for transgenic products is applied and the market for beef and veal that does not come from a feedlot is growing.”

Criticism premature

The persistent criticism is remarkable because even though negotiators from the EU and the US have met each other about 10 times for negotiations, there is still no agreement text or specific proposal. The official assignment is to realise as much progress as possible in 2015, but even if they have an agreement by November or December, it is yet to be submitted to the US Congress and to the European Council in the EU, the European Parliament and most likely to the parliaments of the 28 member states.

In the European bureaucracy, all the criticism is attributed to a lack of strong commitment from domestic politics. Brussels is traditionally the scapegoat for domestic politicians. Anti-Americanism also plays a role. It is not the first time that the EU wants a trade agreement. The EU negotiates with India and Japan and closed deals with, amongst others, Singapore, Canada and South Korea. An important difference is that this time, it cannot be taken for granted that the EU has the upper hand.

TTIP an instrument to perpetuate economic recovery

Whereas other countries usually insist on a trade deal with the EU, it was the other way around this time. “For the EU, TTIP is an instrument to perpetuate economic recovery,” said Professor of Transatlantic Relations Daniel Hamilton of Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. “In that sense, the EU needs TTIP more than the US does, which is also about to close deals with countries around the Pacific Ocean.” These negotiations include Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Australia and New Zealand. The European eagerness and a strong mistrust of ‘Brussels’, built up over the last few decades, feeds the fear that the deal will be more beneficial for the US than for the EU. It is up to the European negotiators to prove the contrary.

Jan Cees Bron

Or register to be able to comment.