European Commissioners calling the adoption of the TTIP trade agreement a ‘no-brainer’ is not conducive to the honest debate on the EU-US free trade agreement that is needed, argue Ferdi De Ville and Gabriel Siles-Brügge.
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and European Financial Services Commissioner Jonathan Hill have written that concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a ‘no-brainer’. Since she took office, Commissioner Malmström has also called for a ‘real, honest debate’ on TTIP. But calling it a ‘no-brainer’ is not conducive to that.
Few topics within the European Union have aroused as much and tense debate as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks between the EU and the United States. This is good news for democracy. It is less positive that much of this discussion has been very polarising, with the debate often consisting of much rehearsed and yet overly one dimensional arguments. Unfortunately, Malmström and Hill’s opinion piece, published in the Guardian, only contributes to this tiring game.
The arguments for and against TTIP are well-known by now. A transatlantic trade deal would supposedly add £100bn to the EU economy and £10bn to the UK’s, as faithfully repeated by Malmström and Hill, giving ‘an adrenalin boost for jobs and growth in our countries when we need it the most’. For those who are unconvinced by the economic benefits, the advocates also have a ‘strategic rationale’: TTIP should allow the EU and the US to set global standards in the 21st Century, before China does it for us. These two objectives can and will be achieved without lowering standards in the EU, so say TTIP’s proponents.
These accuse the opposition to TTIP of spreading lies. The title of Malmström and Hill’s piece, ‘Don’t believe the anti-TTIP hype’, is a direct response to critical NGOs who have mobilised against the proposed transatlantic trade deal. These have warned that TTIP will lead to the dismantling of European regulations on such things as food safety – leading to the marketing of chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef in the EU – or that it will threaten the public nature of the National Health Service.
NGOs also say that it will give big business the power to sue governments for adopting laws in the public interest. The advocates say that they have promised time and again that this will not happen; the critics, instead, are said to be spreading unsupported ‘horror stories’.
However, advocates of the TTIP are committing precisely this sin by making claims without substantiating them. As we and others have argued, the numbers about the expected economic gains from TTIP are based on very clearly flawed assumptions and a discredited economic model.
On the issue of setting of global standards, TTIP’s proponents have not so far explained how this would materialise. If the EU and the US were to decide to adopt the same regulation from now on (‘harmonisation’ in the jargon), this would indeed establish standards that cover almost half of the global economy and may well incentivise the likes of China to adopt them. But as far as we know, this is not what is being contemplated. Rather, what is on the table is the mutual recognition of each other’s regulations, and only for producers from the EU and the US, which is unlikely to inspire third countries to adapt their standards.
Finally, while TTIP might not directly lower European standards, mutual recognition might put a downward pressure on European levels of health, environmental and social protection, as firms are put into competition with American rivals that face less costly regulations.
A real, honest debate on TTIP cannot take off if the agreement’s advocates simply keep saying that the public should not believe the unsubstanted claims of its critics, but should instead without question swallow their own ungrounded claims.
A more sincere debate would see advocates explain precisely how they see TTIP leading to the establishment of global standards and demonstrating that the deal will not lead to a race-to-the-bottom by putting the European social model and ambitious health and environmental policies under competitive pressure through mutual recognition.
One way forward to achieve these objectives would be for them to commit to harmonise towards the highest level of protection. This would really establish ambitious global standards and not lead to a lowering of protection levels in the EU. But this is not what is currently on the table – and those cheerleading for the TTIP should be honest enough to say so.
Ferdi De Villean and Gabriel Siles-Brügge are authors of TTIP: the Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is due to be published by Polity Press later this year.