In this week's State of the Union address, President Obama clearly signaled his renewed commitment to push free trade agreements through Congress. But civil society organizations across the world are speaking out louder than ever in firm opposition to the secretive "Fast Track" negotiations of the two global trade agreements now on the table: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TTIP is one of the latest agreements in the queue, currently in negotiation between the U.S. and the European Union (EU). Along with the TPP, TTIP is threatening international policy change that puts the interests of multinational corporations ahead of everything else, and strips away a slew of protections that social movements across the world have won in recent years.
Free trade agreements have become a mainstay of international policy in recent decades, part of sweeping deregulation serving corporate interests. For those of us who believe in a food system that ensures rights for workers and protections for local communities and the environment, free trade agreements like NAFTA have been bearers of terrible news — and have encountered immense resistance across the globe.
TTIP certainly isn’t the first free trade agreement to raise red flags around the world, but it’s different from its predecessors in some significant ways. Many free trade agreements have aimed to dismantle tariffs — taxes on imports that have been historically important because they protect domestically-produced goods from outside competition. But today, after a few decades of aggressive international policy change, most of these tariffs have already been slashed.
Corporations want the EU to ease up on its environmental and health protections, and behave a little more like the U.S.
This treaty is unique because it seeks to change regulations, not tariffs or other economic aspects of international trade. According to the major corporations pushing for the TTIP's passage, many regulations that the EU has fought long and hard to implement are “barriers” to trade. In short, the EU should ease up on its environmental and health protections, and behave a little more like the U.S.
The problem is that a major corporation’s “regulatory barriers” are the people’s and the planet’s best protection against the harms of human rights abuses and toxic chemicals.
TTIP would move U.S. and EU policy to the lowest common denominator. That means that if one trade party has a more stringent law than the other, the least protective law would become the law of both lands. The free trade agreement would then put some muscle behind the enforcement of these lowered standards. A mechanism called "investor-state dispute settlement" allows corporations to sue a government that seeks to create stronger protections for its citizens.
Governments can then be forced to pay compensation for lost corporate profits — and even losses in perceived future profits.
TTIP & pesticides
Passage of TTIP could have tremendous impacts on a broad array of issues, from tobacco regulations to protections for workers. But PAN was particularly interested when, earlier this month, the Center for International Environmental Law released a report analyzing the likely impacts of TTIP on pesticide law.
CropLife and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) — lobbying groups that represent the economic interests of the Big 6 — have weighed in loud and clear in the TTIP debate. In the lead-up to the sixth round of TTIP negotiations, these industry groups voiced their support for a heavy-handed trade agreement that would significantly impact pesticide regulations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Here are some of the specific changes CropLife and ECPA would like to see in pesticide law:
- Less action on endocrine disruptors: Many pesticides are endocrine disruptors, and some — like the infamous herbicide atrazine — are currently banned in the EU. If the pesticide industry gets its way, the EU’s protections would be rolled back, and Europe would adopt the flawed risk assessment process that has kept pesticides like atrazine on the U.S. market — and in Midwest waterways — for far too long.
- No neonicotinoid bans: Ever since the EU suspended the use of bee-harming neonicotinoids in 2013, Bayer and Syngenta have been lobbying desperately to get them back on the European market. TTIP would dial European protections back into alignment with current U.S. policy — reintroducing neonicotinoids into European crop production, and putting honey bees and other pollinators back in harm's way.
- Looser rules on food residues: The pesticide industry is lobbying hard to ensure that the TTIP would loosen pesticide residue limit laws to allow higher levels of pesticide residues in the EU.
PAN is certainly concerned about changes to Europe's policies. But we're also working hard in several states — including here in Minnesota — for better pesticide protections for people and pollinators. This progress could also be undermined by TTIP.
Protecting hard-won victories
Government leaders in the U.S. and Europe have vowed that TTIP won’t force changes in chemical policy on either side of the Atlantic. But industry lobbyists are under a different impression, and they seem to be right: a recently-leaked draft of TTIP documents indicates that the EU’s pesticide residue laws would be relaxed within 12 months.
Our colleagues at PAN Europe are concerned that passage of the TTIP would undermine many of their hard-won victories to protect communities across the continent from pesticides. In a press release last spring, PAN Europe wrote:
“Health standards already now do not sufficiently protect people and the environment … Deregulation will without doubt lead to more pollution … We would favour trade talks on the quality of products, on establishing the highest level of protection of people and the environment, taking into account recent scientific insights on harmful effects of endocrine disruption and developmental toxicity.”
Here at PAN, we’ll keep standing alongside powerful partners like Public Citizen, Grassroots International, National Family Farm Coalition and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy as we call for an end to unjust trade agreements like the TPP and the TTIP.