Ed's Blog

EU-US Consumers Hold Meeting on Trade Threats

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

Updated: On Wednesday, TACD member Knowledge Ecology International held a side-meeting on intellectual property in the US, EU trade agreement (TTIP). Here is a blog by KEI's Jamie Love with links to videos of the event.

ORIGINAL POST (with new photo added): On Tuesday, 24 June, U.S. and European Union members of the PIRG-backed Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD.org) hold our 15th annual meeting, this time in Washington, DC. We met in Brussels last fall.

The event Tuesday is titled: The TTIP one year on: Consumers mean business.

The capacity crowd (yes, it's full but the event will be live-streamed so you can join) will hear government and consumer experts debate whether the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the two massive trading partners is good for consumers, or threatens strong health, safety and privacy laws while unwisely granting corporations some rights and powers of sovereign nations.

On some matters, such as the safety of the financial system, U.S. regulators are very good, while European regulators are pushing to weaken financial standards by making them subject to weak trade laws.

On the other hand, some of what the U.S. side is doing is simply incredible. Take food: Every country in Europe already requires the labeling of genetically modified food. A few go further and even ban genetically-modified food. Vermont PIRG recently successfully advocated for the nation's first GMO labeling law (a few other states, e.g. Connecticut,  have also passed trigger laws that require other neighboring states to act before they take effect).

Not only has the powerful TTIP backer and trade lobby the Grocery Manufacturers Association already sued to overturn the Vermont law, but U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has virtually demanded that all of the European food labeling laws be eliminated as part of the proposed TTIP. He claims, falsely, that we have a different philosophy in the United States. Certainly powerful agribiz firms do have a different "we know what's good for you" philosophy, but the American people, in every poll, have overwhelmingly demanded a right to know what's in their food. Our PIRG campaign seeks not only to label GMOs, but also to get antibiotics out of our food. See photo at left of tote bag "GMO? I want to know" that PIRG members are carrying to the store.

The TTIP would be a bilateral treaty that affects a lot more than food and the safety of the financial system. Chapters are being negotiated on a broad range of issues that put health and safety laws, consumer protection laws and privacy laws all at risk (in the case of privacy laws, EU consumers are better off, but big American tech firms, from Facebook to Google, want to roll those laws back). The intellectual property and antitrust chapters under negotiation would implicate the price and availability of medicine. Read TACD's series of papers detailing our broad concerns on all these matters, as already presented to the governments, for more details.

Perhaps the biggest, boldest and most brazen play in the TTIP negotiations is the corporate demand to include a provision called Investor-State Dispute Resolution, or ISDS. When nations first began negotiating bilateral investment treaties, over 50 years ago, this provision, allowing corporations to dispute a country's laws in private non-court tribunals, may have made some sense, in some cases. A company from a developed nation would not want to invest in a developing nation without a robust court system.

But today, ISDS provisions in existing treaties are being routinely used by foreign subsidiaries of powerful corporations to challenge laws that they don't like, in their own developed home countries. Believe it or not, lobbyists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other special interests are claiming that corporations don't get a fair shake in the U.S. courts so ISDS -- elevating corporations to the level of sovereign nations -- must be added to all new treaties.

Yet another problem with the trade negotiations is that the U.S. side, in particular, insists that trade negotiations must be held to purportedly high levels of secrecy; yet although hundreds of industry "advisors" have access to text, the public does not. TACD has pushed back hard for greater transparency in trade negotiations, especially in the TTIP.

We will be participating in Tuesday's events. In my role as U.S. co-chair of the TACD Steering Committee, I will be moderating a plenary panel of distinguished government negotiators and regulators (pdf of full day's program). The event Tuesday is only part of our activities. Along with other TACD members, we participate regularly in other fora and meet with negotiators on a regular basis. After all, consumers mean business. And while we are disappointed with our government's negotiating positions on a variety of matters, as detailed above, we do appreciate that they have an open-door policy and are also willing to engage with us at this and other events.

We started the TACD in 1999 when the US and EU were negotiating various trade rules on a case by case basis. Now, we're engaged in the most important trade negotiations that the two trading partners have ever engaged in. Our role is to make sure that consumers are protected. If consumers win, the economies win.

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