Earlier this month, Greenpeace Netherlands released secret documents from the TTIP negotiations – the controversial trade deal between the United States and Europe that has big implications for the environment and more than 800 million citizens. Missed it? Wondering how it affects you? Then keep reading.
Greenpeace activists project texts of leaked TTIP documents on the Reichstag Building in Berlin. Leaked TTIP documents confirm major risks for climate, environment and consumer safety.
1. What is the TTIP?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed trade deal between the EU and the US economies. The negotiation has been kept under wraps for years and the implications are massive. It would account for about half of the entire world’s GDP, nearly a third of world trade flows, and would affect pretty much every sector of the economy – from farming to textiles, and IT to cars.
Hundreds of Greenpeace activists participate in a mass demonstration targeted towards US President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel. On the huge banner it reads: “Yes we can stop TTIP”.
2. What will the TTIP actually do?
The aim is to remove so-called trade ‘barriers’ that could boost trade. Some of these barriers could include health and safety standards, labelling laws, or insisting on eco-friendly production processes which protect consumers. But TTIP could alter or remove these.
After the leaks, Greenpeace set up a TTIP Documents Transparent Public Reading Room in Berlin where concerned citizens were able to read the documents.
3. But cheaper is better right?
In some ways, yes. But you get what you pay for.
For example, the EU does not allow imports of US meat from animals that have been treated with growth hormones, because this practice has been linked to cancer and other health concerns. But the US agriculture industry see these standards as obstacles to trade. This means that the TTIP could potentially allow a lot more GM food into Europe, and citizens could soon be eating fruit and vegetables with much higher pesticide residues, meat from pigs and cattle treated with growth hormones, or chicken treated with chlorine. Meanwhile, European producers lose out to cheaper imports.
4. What’s wrong with rinsing chickens in a water and chlorine bath?
Apart from the fact that these are chemicals that are normally used to clean toilets, it poses a serious health risk – chlorine is a known carcinogen. In the US meat is also often treated with antibacterial substances, which have other health and environmental impacts.
Greenpeace reveals 248 pages of the top secret TTIP documents at the re.publica TEN conference in Berlin.
5. Wow, that’s pretty worrying. What else should I be concerned about?
From an environmental and consumer protection point of view, four aspects are of serious concern.
i. Profit before planet
None of the TTIP papers that Greenpeace Netherlands leaked reference long-standing environmental protections, like the “General Exceptions” rule – a nearly 70-year-old rule that allows nations to regulate trade “to protect human, animal and plant life or health”. The omission of this suggests what both sides are really in favour of: profit at the expense of our health and the environment.
ii. Climate protection will be harder under TTIP
Remember how in Paris last year world leaders recognised the need to keep temperature increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius? Well, trade should not be excluded from climate action. But nothing indicating support for climate protection can be found in the texts Greenpeace Netherlands released. As an example, trade proposals would rule out regulating the import of carbon-intensive fuels such as oil from the tar sands.
Two pages of the secret TTIP documents.
iii. Risk management instead of risk avoidance
It’s better to avoid a risk than manage it right? In 2000, the European Commission adopted the “precautionary principle”, which forces a manufacturer to prove that a product is safe. But in the TTIP papers there is no mention of the “precautionary principle”, only of the U.S. demand for a ‘risk-based’ approach. So if EU regulators have issues, say, with controversial pesticides and want to take preventive measures, this can be undermined because the precautionary principle is no longer there.
iv. Big business wants what big business gets
What if you’re concerned about the impacts TTIP has on environmental and consumer protection and want to do something about it? Well that would be hard because corporations would be granted a privileged voice. The leaked papers repeatedly talk about the need for further consultations with industry. In this way the EU is granting the private sector great influence, while the public is kept out by keeping the negotiations secret.
Greenpeace activists block EU and US negotiators from TTIP Talks in Brussels. The protesters warn that the TTIP is a threat for democracy, environmental protection, health standards and working conditions.
6. Hmmm, I don’t like the sound of this. Is there an alternative to the TTIP?
Yes. Basically, the problem with the TTIP is that it makes trade liberal, almost too liberal, deregulating controversial and risky products like GMOs, chemicals and hormone-treated meat. What we need instead is sustainable development. We need international rules for better trade that promote environmental, social and human well-being. Trade rules should be democratic and inclusive. They should not grant privileged treatment for multinationals, but guarantee accountability through the enforceable protection of human and social rights, and the environment. Sounds like a better trade deal, don’t you think?
There are many more implications and problems associated with the TTIP. Read more about it here.
Susan Cohen Jehoram is the TTIP international project lead at Greenpeace Netherlands.