A look at what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will mean for European health standards.
A health conscious mother in Aarhus, Denmark shops worry free down the produce aisles of her local grocery store.
When it comes to setting the dinner table each night, she makes it a priority to set aside heavily processed ingredients and avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s).
Denmark has long been famed as the most developed nation in the world with regard to the trade of organic products. With pesticide-free goods accounting for eight percent of the country’s total food expenditure, Aarhus has no “bad apples.”
However, as talks between the European Union and the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) accelerate to the 12th round of negotiations, critics wonder if this trade deal will make European efforts to maintain health standards fruitless.
Why is TTIP such a big deal?
It is a profit-driven agreement that could fuse the North American and European markets into the largest area of free trade in the world. With huge potential earnings on both sides of the Atlantic, TTIP would amount to one third of all global trade and impact more than 829 million consumers.
By cutting tariffs and regulatory barriers it is not only food and drink industry markets that will change. From pharmaceuticals, cars, energy, finance, chemicals to clothing, TTIP will synchronize American and European trade.
“Under my presidency, the Commission will negotiate a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the United States of America.” President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said to the BBC. “It is anachronistic that, in the 21st century, Europeans and Americans still impose customs duties on each other’s products.”
One of the principle aspects of TTIP is the harmonization of regulatory standards on goods. With mirrored criteria for export products, both the U.S. and European businesses would save on expensive compliance costs currently in place.
Where’s the beef?
As of now the EU and the U.S. have different approaches to regulations and the manufacturing of goods.
According to The Independent, 70 percent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets are now containing genetically modified ingredients. By contrast, the EU allows virtually no GM foods.
To put it simply, due to EU legislation, European products are guilty until proven innocent. This means all substances need to be proven safe before they can be sold on the market. While in the States, products are innocent until proven guilty. Commodities get approval unless it is proven that their ingredients do harm.
One example is the use of antibiotics for growth promotion, 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are linked to food animal production. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a minimum of 23,000 deaths occur each year due to antibiotic resistance.
Another example of quantity over quality is seen in the production of GMO’s. The U.S. Grains Council wants faster approval of GM traits in grains used for animal feed than the current EU framework allows. Each trait requires its own approval in the EU, whereas new varieties being developed in the U.S. have multiple traits in one seed. The industry wants these multiple traits to be approved at the same time and at a much faster rate, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
For the health conscious mother in Denmark, this facet of TTIP raises eyebrows.
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom quells these fears by saying to Politico that, “No EU trade agreement will ever lower the level of protection of consumers or food safety or of the environment.”
To stay true to her word, Malmstrom and her negotiators are in talks with her U.S. counterparts to adapt a more “precautionary” assessment of the risk of pesticides, hormones or other potentially harmful substances in food or chemical products.
The goal of a “transatlantic marketplace” has always been the fire behind TTIP. The deal was masterminded in 2011 by the ‘High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth’ (HLWG), and chaired by European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the then US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
The first official negotiations of TTIP took place in 2013 and have been trading off meeting places between Washington and Brussels.
This week saw the 12th round and those involved expressed what could be seen as cautious optimism.
“By the end of this round, or shortly thereafter, we anticipate having specific agreement language under discussion in nearly all areas,” Travor Kincaid, a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative, said to the BBC.
With over two years of talks in the cart, both sides are aiming to secure a deal by the end of this year before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office.
Who isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid?
More than three million people in Europe have signed a petition against TTIP and an estimated 250,000 people marched in Berlin last October to protest against the proposals.
“TTIP is already letting big business interests dictate our laws for the worse,” Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now said to The Guardian. “This week an EU negotiator has let slip that negotiations on TTIP have helped speed up entry of GMOs and chemically washed beef into the EU market,” he said.
Concerned that haste to close the trade deal is a “race to the bottom,” Dearden questions the future of the European food market with big business’ stocking the shelves.
“Just imagine what will happen when TTIP actually comes into effect. Even the most optimistic of citizens must surely doubt the EU’s good intentions on TTIP after hearing how TTIP is already letting big business take over our legislative system,” Dearden said.
Between balancing a schedule and balancing her families diet, the mother in Aarhus, Denmark worries the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership may outweigh her healthy options.
Will the concerned outcry of public opinion be loud enough to tip TTIP’s balance and significantly impact trade policy negotiations on both sides of the Atlantic? In the fight between economic advancement and consumer interest, this year will tell if the European Union can have its cake and eat it too.