Campaigners against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) say Britain’s co-op movement could help win the battle – but claim it has stayed out of the debate.
Co-operators – particularly large consumer co-ops such as the Co-op Group – could help stop “an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations”, campaign leaders argue.
The TTIP trade deal is being negotiated between the EU and US, mostly in secret. It has been led by a coalition of multinational companies to reduce regulatory barriers to trade. It includes measures to enable privatisation of national assets, weaken legislation on banking, food safety and the environment, and enable corporations to sue EU member states in secret hearings.
Todor Ivanov, secretary general at Euro Coop, said: “Had the EU authorities been more transparent about the negotiation proceedings, civil society wouldn’t have been as alarmed and suspicious, as they are now. If one’s being secretive, one has something to hide.”
He added: “On one hand, consumer co-ops are alarmed due to the risk of lowering the high EU standards in terms of food security and quality. Co-op-labelled products could become less competitive due to cheaper alternatives from the US, but with lower quality and safety standards. Consumer co-ops are in the difficult situation of needing to balance economic viability and socio-environmental responsibility.
“We will not compromise on the standards concerning quality of food and its environmental footprint, something we fear TTIP’s ‘harmonising standards’ between EU and US could jeopardise.
“On the other hand, there could be a possibility to have easier access to European products, and co-op products included, to the US market, which could increase turnover for our members. But again, since most of the time the public is left in the dark on TTIP, we can only really guess at this moment.”
In the UK, the campaign against TTIP unites a wide range of organisations concerned about the impact it could have on jobs, social standards and the environment.
Anti-fracking groups, trade unions and public health and food safety campaigners have joined forces with social media campaigns like 38 Degrees and SumOfUs, many of which will attend a national rally in Manchester on 21 March.
John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, which has organised the event, said: “We’re seeing small and medium-sized businesses beginning to speak out. Some fear what it will mean for the high standards they’ve tried to defend in their industry, while others fear the threat posed by unregulated competition from US multinationals.
“Up to now we’ve seen relatively little involvement from the co-operative movement in the campaign against TTIP, although the Co-operative Group was previously engaged in the trade justice movement to a significant extent.
“The big national gathering in Manchester could be the inspiration for co-ops to take their place in the struggle for a positive trade and investment policy once again.”