Negotiations for a trade deal between the European Union and the United States started in July 2013. If agreed, the deal will be the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history. It is known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).
The talks cover a huge range of issues and sectors, many related to our environment and health. Up for discussion are rules about food safety including genetically modified products, toxic chemicals, highly polluting fuels, data protection and many other things.
Officially, the aim of the talks is to reach an agreement to make trade easier. But in reality they represent a massive exercise in bringing down so-called 'barriers' to trade. They threaten to weaken safeguards put in place to protect the environment and citizens just so that companies can make more money.
The proposed deal could pose a serious threat to standards designed to protect human health, the environment and social wellbeing. It risks rolling-back democratically agreed safeguards in areas such as food and chemical safety, agriculture and energy. And preventing such safeguards being agreed in future.
The introduction of mutual recognition of standards (where Europe would have to accept US imports regardless of whether they comply with EU regulations, and vice-versa), risk effectively lowering standards towards the lowest-common denominators.
This would reduce protection for the environment and expose individuals to greater health, safety and other risks.
For example, it could see European restrictions on imports of hormone-treated beef and poultry washed in chlorine challenged. Plans to limit access to the EU for oil from dirty tar sands, and local and national bans on shale gas, could be called into question.
Food labelling requirements – including information on genetically modified ingredients – could be threatened by a deal.
The negotiations are shrouded in secrecy. On the European side, the European Commission has the mandate to negotiate on behalf of its member states without proper involvement of the European Parliament and civil society. The negotiating mandate and other documents are being kept away from public scrutiny.
In the US, only a limited number of trade advisors – mostly from business backgrounds – have access to the negotiating documents, under strict confidentiality conditions.
Powerful business lobby groups – from the agribusiness, chemical, and extractive sectors for instance – are already actively lobbying for the deal to get rid of environment, consumer and social protections.
Big corporations are explicitly calling on decision-makers to weaken standards as the essential aim of the negotiations.
As long as the talks are secret, suspicions will remain that corporations are having an unbalanced influence.
The trade deal is promoted as a way of increasing trade and investment and boosting jobs. But the economic benefits of a deal would in fact be minimal. And the potential environment and social losses are being overlooked.
Instead of addressing obvious problems with the current system, the proposals promote business as usual. While big business may see increased profits, individuals, society and future generations are likely to pay the price.
The deal threatens to give more rights to companies through a clause called an ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS).
If included in the deal, this would enable corporations to claim damages in secret courts or ‘arbitration panels’ if they deem their profits are adversely affected by changes in regulation or policy. Damages are potentially unlimited. And even expected future profits can be claimed for.
Under other existing investor-state agreements challenges are already being brought by oil, gas and mining companies, the nuclear industry, and pharmaceutical giants which deem that their profits are being damaged by changes to health and environment regulations.
This mechanism allows companies to challenge democratically agreed decisions. It is not in the public interest and should not be included in any EU-US deal.
We are calling for the TTIP talks to be stopped.
We believe there is a need for much closer scrutiny of the negotiations. We want many more people to be aware of the dangers the deal presents to people and the planet.
And we are calling for the talks to be made transparent. We want an end to the secrecy. The negotiating texts should be made public so that people can know what is being discussed and agreed.
We are working closely with Friends of the Earth US and with other allies to raise awareness about the danger of this trade deal.