Co-ops campaign against controversial free trade zone

Controversial negotiations between the EU and the USA are intensifying as they try to reach a bilateral trade agreement by the end of the year – and a...

Controversial negotiations between the EU and the USA are intensifying as they try to reach a bilateral trade agreement by the end of the year – and a number of co-operatives have signed up to a campaign against the deal.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an attempt to create the world’s largest free-trade zone. The US and EU are currently looking at three main pillars related to trade: market access, regulatory co-operation and rules.

The campaign Business against TTIP argues that the deal will force UK businesses into unfair competition with US firms with lower standards and lower costs. Signatories have also raised concerns over the social, health and environmental standards across Europe.

The EU’s chief negotiatior on TTIP, Ignacio Garcīa Bercero says the two sides will be stepping up their efforts to conclude talks in 2016. In the coming weeks they will discuss public procurement – an issue the EU and the USA have yet to agree on.

“We share an understanding that everything we do should respect the level of protection enshrined in our respective legislation,” he said at a press conference after the last talks. “Co-operation is only possible if the level of protection for citizens improves, or at least stays the same.”

Dan Mullaney, Chief US Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP [photo: European Union]
Dan Mullaney, Chief US Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP [photo: European Union]
TTIP would not change the way the EU regulated on public policies such as food safety or environmental protection, he claimed – but critics fear otherwise.

Some co-operatives say that by harmonising regulatory standards, the EU standards on food and safety could be brought closer to those of the USA.

Another worry is the potential introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements, which would allow foreign investors to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits.

The EU’s TTIP negotiating texts, which are available online, highlight that the deal would not change existing food safety rules in either the EU or the USA but that it would seek to “remove unnecessary trade barriers”.

One of the EU’s objectives would be a single approval process for exports from all EU countries, just like there is a single approval process for US exports to the EU.

Supporters of the deal also argue that TTIP could open the USA’s federal government procurement market to EU companies.

In a series of leaflets released on the TTIP, the UK government estimates that a family of four will benefit by £400 a year from the deal. It also says that TTIP will directly benefit small businesses, which will find it easier to export due to reducing duplication and red tape.

CSR expert Paul Monaghan has topped a global leader poll
Paul Monaghan from Up the Ethics

Paul Monaghan, director of Up the Ethics, is one of the signatories of the pledge.

He said: “It would be utterly wrong (not to mention undemocratic) for Europe to roll back hard-fought environmental legislation that has done so much to improve the quality of people’s lives. Any social enterprises aiming to develop a sustainable business model need to be concerned about TTIP and its potential to favour the unscrupulous and force a race to the bottom.”

Debbie Clarke, member of Unicorn Grocery worker co-operative, which sells organic foods in Manchester, has also signed up against TTIP.

She said: “We are deeply concerned about the threats TTIP poses to labour standards, animal welfare, environmental protection and democracy itself.

“The agreement’s focus on reducing ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ is a recipe for reducing environmental and safety standards, allowing multinationals to sue governments in highly dubious ’corporate courts’ for harming their profit-making ability.

“If it goes ahead, TTIP could become the new model for future trade agreements worldwide. That’s not the direction we want to be heading in, and we think a lot of other co-ops will feel similarly.”

Other co-op signatories to the Businesses against TTIP include Suma Wholefoods, SEED Co-op Ltd, Infinity Wholefoods and Ethical Consumer Research Association, a worker co-operative and the UK’s leading alternative consumer organisation.

Signing the pledge, Suzi Silva from Infinity Wholefoods co-operative, said: “People need to know this is about to happen, come together and make the change so that it does not.”

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