Trade agreements, particularly those between Europe and the US (TTIP: The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), provide a huge opportunity for development and growth and are therefore so much more than a potential risk. The European Commission’s agenda is very ambitious. 90% of the world’s economic growth takes place beyond European borders and it is essential that our agricultural sector takes full advantage of the chance to negotiate. Exports in the European agricultural sector have decreased during the crisis, but that situation is now starting to change for the better, which means there is much work to be done if all sides are to be happy with any agreement(s) made. The TTIP is very important because it could well constitute the basis for any future trade agreements and that is precisely why there are so many problems to overcome. To date, all negotiations have been on a regional basis and call for a 1:28 ratio of all exports to the US. In other words, only one European country at a time can trade in a particular product which means all other countries are excluded. For the US, however, that quota stands at a more balanced 50:50. These are points that will require considerable negotiation if all countries in Europe are to have access to the same trade facilitation. Narrowing that gap is essential if the desired benefits are to be achieved, bearing in mind that such an important agreement requires good sense and fairness on all sides if it is to become a model for all future agreements between Europe and the rest of the world.
These talks are in fact very complex, but Europe has obtained one good result already, thanks to Parliamentary approval, on July 8, of its own recommendations to the Commission’s negotiators regarding a transatlantic trade and investment partnership. It was determined that an EU-US agreement must open US markets to EU businesses without compromising EU standards. A new legal system needs to be created specifically to resolve trade disputes, and it should be overseen by judges who have to be publicly named and subject to regulations regarding control and transparency (ISDS). The agreement needs to be ambitious, but also equitable, with benefits shared amongst all member states and it must foster an economic climate that is transparent, efficient and that fosters competition. It must also overcome trade barriers, but not price barriers. Furthermore, the EU’s system for geographical indication must be fully protected and agricultural products and sensitive industries must be given special consideration. Negotiators must pay particular attention to ensuring that EU regulations are safeguarded in the sectors in which those prevailing in the US are very different, examples being the authorization of chemical substances, cloning or chemical products for the endocrine system. The tenth round of talks will be taking place next week, (13-17 July) and the bare bones of the agreements must be fleshed out if they are to be finalized by 2016.
The resistance and concerns raised about the TTIP, caused in part by a lack of information, are creating considerable political difficulties between the various parties involved. The outcome of the European vote is important because the Union must present itself at the negotiating table with a united front. It is a delicate but fundamental democratic process and there is every chance that the European democratic system will win out when it comes to making decisions as important as these on behalf of all its member states.
American democracy also has procedures of its own; those opposing the TTIP are in a minority and the negotiating aspect of things is less controversial there than it is in the EU. Food safety is undoubtedly one of the more contentious issues on the table. America takes the view that individual consumers are free to make their own choices and decisions regardless of any scientific, religious or other conventions. As already discussed within the World Trade Organization (WTO), every individual government can establish the level of food safety regulations it deems adequate and in accordance to its own scientific standards. In Europe, that is not the case at a national level as European-wide regulations apply, so the correct labeling of products – such as the inclusion of a geographic indication – might be the answer. Politicians must manage consumer concerns and to do so, they need to turn to scientific evidence and communicate with the public. One ongoing case concerns Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). EU regulations on GMOs are the most restrictive in the world, and such products can only be grown following an in-depth evaluation of risks. It has taken three years for the European Council to approve a proposal that gives member states greater flexibility regarding GMOs in their respective countries. EFSA – the European Food Safety Authority – has provided scientific proof that some GMOs are not harmful.
That said, Europe has to continue to provide the same guarantees on food safety and health matters that its citizens have come to expect. To do this means that the business and political worlds need to show strong leadership and provide more information, transparency and controls. It is particularly important that citizens regain their trust in institutions as this is the only way to fight and overcome populism and bad information.
Trade in agricultural goods compensates for any scarcity in food production caused by climate changes or for other reasons.
These agreements provide an opportunity to contribute to the success of farmers, industry and consumers alike because it simplifies trade deregulation on a global scale. The TTIP constitutes an important geopolitical asset and the consequences on both sides of the Atlantic would be extremely significant if it fails. Globalization is a fact, not a choice, and these agreements are strategically important in establishing regulations that will provide the basis of future relationships with other parts of the world.
Trade agreements, particularly those between Europe and the United States (TTIP) are, in that regard, a great opportunity for growth and development and not, therefore, simply a risk.