Ed's Blog

Will U.S. trade deal with Europe threaten our safety and pocketbooks?

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

UPDATE (15 June 2013): A variety of recent news stories explain concerns about the viability of the proposed trade deal with Europe being pushed by powerful special interests.  I explain our deep concerns on a variety of flaws in the proposal in a story on the website of Germany's national TV network Deutche Welle (DW). More on the issue is here in a story from McClatchy Newspapers featuring some of PIRG's concerns. Steve Erlanger of the New York Times writes that "Conflicting Goals Complicate an Effort to Forge a Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal." And, in the Washington Post, Howard Schneider explains that the NSA's privacy intrusions and the revelation that unapproved genetically modified wheat has been found in Oregon aren't helping the U.S. case for a trade deal.

ORIGINAL POST: U.S. officials have begun discussing a new so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. It's all the buzz in Washington lobby circles because it will create "jobs."

That's all good, as rhetoric. But the rest of the official rhetoric states that the deal will focus on "regulatory issues and non-tariff trade barriers." That's another way of saying it offers another vehicle for powerful special interests to eliminate laws that protect consumer health, safety and pocketbooks.

The deal poses a serious threat to strong new U.S. food safety laws, tough new U.S. rules designed to prevent another bank-induced economic collapse and many other public protections already under attack in the Congress under the guise of "regulatory reform." Industry lobbyists will also seek to use the deal to weaken strong European privacy laws, European labeling of genetically-modified food (GMOs) and a tough European chemical safety law known as REACH. That law is based on the precautionary principle, which simply says: err on the side of safety if we're not sure how dangerous a chemical is.

Why is industry working so hard against these European laws? Industry doesn't want those good ideas to spread to the U.S. It sees trade negotiations as an opportunity to place a ceiling on public protections.

The threat that the trade deal will be hijacked by industry lobbyists will be lessened if the U.S. reverses its plan to conduct negotiations in the full view of some 600 industry "advisors" but secretly from the rest of us. In U.S. PIRG comments filed to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) (scroll down below the summary for the detailed attachment) earlier this month and in similar testimony delivered yesterday to the multi-agency Trade Policy Staff Committee we urged two things:

  • First, we urged transparency. We asked, as did numerous other public interest groups, for the creation of a "Consumer Advisory Committee" with access to the negotiations. But our recommendation wasn't simply to be in on the secret. We also asked that so-called "negotiating texts" be made fully public in real time. The U.S. (and the Europeans, too) would prefer to release belated generalized summaries, despite that numerous other international trade negotiations are conducted openly.
  • Second, we urged that any treaty's effect on health, safety and pocketbook regulations be to establish a floor (never a ceiling) of protection but allow the trading partners (the U.S. and European Union) and their member states and countries to enact stronger laws. Of course, the stronger laws must be for consumer protection, not economic protectionism. That means they must be applied equally to domestic or foreign firms.

U.S. PIRG is a founding member of the 15-year old Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum of leading U.S. and European consumer organizations, which also filed similar comments to the USTR. Last week, members of the TACD, including U.S. PIRG, gave the same message to senior European Commission trade officials at a meeting in Brussels.

We'll be following this trade negotiation closely. Our hard work to enact consumer protections in state capitols and Washington should not be eliminated under the guise of free trade. As our testimony yesterday said:

"We are supportive of EU and US cooperation to deliver a fairer, safer and more vibrant marketplace for consumers through a fair EU and United States trade and investment agreement. We would consider supporting such an agreement only if it is not negotiated secretly from the public and only if its results are not predicated on special interest demands to eliminate consumer health, safety or financial protections."

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