Current Promises are not Enough to Calm Concerns
There is widespread concern that TTIP will harm European food safety and environmental regulations. Unfortunately, the debate suffers from a lack of specific information and critics have not been swayed by official assurances. Therefore, negotiators should prioritize chapters relevant to this debate and release specific information as soon as possible. In addition to information about cooperation on current regulations, there is also a need for clarification on how cooperation will look moving forward.
In our third TTIP theme week, we invited experts to give their opinions about the effects that TTIP could have on food safety and the environment. The editorial team has reviewed the articles and comments, and has drawn three preliminary conclusions on the subject. First, the debate suffers from a lack of specific information. Second, there is concern not just about what harmonization could do to current regulation but also about the impact that TTIP will have on regulation moving forward. And third, proponents have failed to counter a convincing and concerning narrative by not providing good, understandable examples of where regulation is unecessarily divergent.
Word cloud resulting from the text of the comments and articles from the week.
Assurances are Insufficient to Calm Fears about Food Safety
As with all areas of TTIP, the debate about how an agreement would affect food and environmental regulations relies on insufficient information and each critic or proponent's own expectations. This is of course an inherent problem of the debate at an early stage, since negotiations are still ongoing.
Decision makers and negotiators have stated that the concerns about potential erosion of food safety and environmental regulations are misplaced, as they are specifically excluded from the mandate and thus not on the table at negotiations. But critics are worried nonetheless. Thus, it is evident that fears and concerns will not be quieted by current assurances but require concrete information and evidence how standards are maintained in practice.
These concerns even extend further than the nature of the agreement, and touch on how the agreement would actually be implemented. Sabine Ohm of PROVIEH, an organization that fights for better treatment of farm animals, expressed the concern that, even if the agreement does not allow for the sale of products like hormone treated beef, EU consumers will be subject to a significant risk of fraud based on the fact that US production will be out of the reach of EU inspectors.
Due to the suspicion and sensitivity of these regulations, negotiators should prioritize work on relevant chapters and release concrete information like the text of a preliminary agreement as soon as possible. Doing so would allow for a more informative and productive debate, as well as calming concerns that an agreement will be reached and ratified without sufficient public review.
What Will Future Cooperation Look Like?
These concerns are not just limited to present regulation. For TTIP to be effective there must be commitment to future cooperation, not just a harmonization of current regulatory schemes. Part of the reason why the arguments against TTIP in this subject are so compelling is that the public does believe that there is a fundamental philosophical difference between the EU and the US regulatory regimes. If neither the EU's "precautionary principle" nor the US' reliance on what proponents refer to as a "scientific approach" is in danger of being changed, then what can future regulation possibly look like? The two arguments presented in the third week that respond to this concern were made by Dr. Elvire Fabry, with Notre Europe, and Lawrence Kogan of the Institute for Trade, Standards, and Sustainable Development, who writes with Lucas Bergkamp of the law firm Hunton & Williams.
Dr. Fabry brought into question the idea that the US is a less cautious regulator. As evidence she pointed to research indicating that, in the aggregate, regulation in the US applies the precautionary principle on a similar basis as regulation in the EU. However, the research also stated that some areas, like food safety and environmental regulation, do reflect the common understanding that the EU is more cautious.
This approach compliments the argument that much of the criticism of TTIP is driven by stereotypes, or skepticism about cooperation with the US. While it is true that the debate is impacted by such attitudes, the argument runs the risk of fallaciously dismissing critics' arguments. Reasonable debate about TTIP should be informed by this point, but concerns still need to be addressed directly, rather than waved away as misconceptions rooted in stereotypes. The authors who took part in our TTIP Forum did not dismiss arguments in this way, but rather addressed arguments directly.
Lawrence Kogan and Lucas Bergkamp wrote about the unsatisfactory status quo of regulatory cooperation between the EU and US, in order to make a constructive argument as to how TTIP can use currently existing legal instruments, and consequently improve the regulatory system in a way that retains democratic values and scientific strength, and does not impose the costs that are imposed by the current system of fractured regulation.
Providing Concrete Examples of Redundancy
Critics have been very effective at putting their points next to clear and compelling examples. And it is not just because these examples often cause the gut reaction that they sometimes do, but also because they support an intuitive argument. The public has been assured that there is no intention to weaken sensitive regulations like the EU ban on chlorine rinsed chickens, but the US poultry industry would greatly benefit from such a change, therefore the industry is likely to invest in lobbying to negotiators. The public believes that corporate lobbies wield significant power and likely see TTIP as an opportunity. Even if negotiators are not believed to have malicious intentions, there is a fear that the final product will bear the influence of corporate interests.
Proponents insist that these are not the regulations that are being targeted. Instead they claim that the goal is to eliminate unnecessarily divergent and duplicative regulations. However, the examples given have often been vague and are not sufficient to stem the tide of public skepticism. Support for regulatory harmonization must feature concrete uncontroversial examples of unnecessarily divergent regulation.
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