TTIP: Europe’s Big Secret

Amidst the furore of the European Parliament elections, the fifth round of talks regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) took place this week in Arlington, Virginia. The prospective trade deal aiming to synchronise European and American commercial trade laws is said to potentially amount to a €119 billion per annum increase in European trade, and €95 billion a year to the US. Furthermore the deregulation of European markets should theoretically correspond with an increase in exports and thus lead to the creation of more jobs, whilst simultaneously underpinning a ‘race to the bottom’ effect on the prices of goods, and thereby enabling greater consumer accessibility.

However, a joint study between The University of Manchester’s Dr Gabriel Siles-Brügge and Dr Ferdi de Ville of Universiteit Gent concluded “that these huge figures are vastly overblown and deeply flawed,” presenting “an overly optimistic view coloured by the political imperatives of the likes of the European Commission and certain member state governments.”

Additionally, there have been concerns over the utter lack of transparency surrounding the formation of the TTIP. In a recent lecture the Dutch diplomat, Meline Arakelian, acknowledged that the only parties privy to the details of the deal are the unelected EU Commissioners and the US Officials. Commenting in the Huffington Post, Keith Taylor MEP admitted that even “colleagues who sit on the European Parliament’s Trade Committee don’t get a proper look at the negotiating document.” Many feel that the majority of ordinary people whom this legislation affects are simply being ignored. However, accusations against the undemocratic nature of the process have been responded to by Marc Van Heukelen, chief advisor to EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht, who stated that “there are 1,300 treaties agreed between European countries and the rest of the world. So don’t make out here that this is completely new.”

Such protestations have come from, among others, trade unions who feel that the deal’s proposed ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’, which would legally forbid countries to enact legislation that would be inimical to the profit of a company, could be used to circumvent current labour and wage rights. The Belgian MP, Alain Maron, who was arrested on Thursday 15th May for his role in an anti-TTIP protest, denounced this as “an erosion of consumer and human rights”- a fear shared in Germany in which a petition against TTIP has been signed by a staggering 500,000 people, whilst a further 120 European campaign groups have recently condemned the deal as an anti-democratic move toward corporatocracy. Attacks and arrests of anti-TTIP protesters are serving only to fuel, rather than quell, such fears.

The attempts to harmonise global standards, could also potentially lead to a significant degradation of standards to which goods are judged. Whereas the TTIP considers US-EU trading deals, there are ongoing discussions between the United States and a conglomerate of countries in the Far East. In this lecture Arakelian, when pressed, admitted that were deals with a bloc of Far Eastern countries be concluded in advance of the TTIP, the European Union’s negotiating position would be substantially weakened. Take, for example, the Japanese automobile industry. Japan goes through great lengths and expense in order to produce cars that can be sold in both Europe and America. TTIP will undoubtedly modulate such regulation and therefore enable Japanese cars to be sold for cheaper across the world. However, were America to do a deal with Japan that reinforced American safety standards (which fall below the more rigorous standards set within Europe), it is possible that the EU might be inclined to lower its standards in order to maintain trading partnerships.

Little has been made of the monumental trade deal – not in the debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, nor in the vitriolic words slung to and fro the Labour and Conservative parties. Perhaps this is because all four parties are disposed favourably towards the deal, or because so little is actually known about this illusive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. However, the perpetuation of economic falsehoods (or at least grossly hyperbolised figures); the blatant secrecy in which the deal is being conducted; and the suppression of vocal opposition do little to reassure or evoke sentiments of security amongst the European citizens whom TTIP will detrimentally affect.