As European officials gathered in Washington Tuesday for the second day of negotiations over the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), critics sounded the alarm over corporate gifts, "dangerous deregulation," and a "bleak" outlook for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.
Many warn that because existing tariffs between the partners already run low, at roughly three percent, the talks will largely focus on eliminating regulatory barriers.
"The [US Trade Representative's] office, representing corporate interests, will almost surely push for the lowest common standard," writes Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Ahead of the talks, over 60 pro-regulation groups from both sides of the Atlantic issued a letter to President Obama, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, stating their opposition to the "use of behind-closed-door" tactics to "change and lower public interest measures for the sake of commercial interests." They continue:
A transatlantic agreement that is little more than a vehicle to facilitate deregulation would not only threaten to weaken critical consumer and environmental safeguards, but also conflict with the democratic principle that those living with the results of regulatory standards – residents of our countries – must be able to set those standards through the democratic process, even when doing so results in divergent standards that businesses may find inconvenient.
The groups said they fear the talks would yield "harmonized" regulations that defer to whichever of the trading partners has the lowest standards in a number of areas including drug safety, food safety, privacy, workers' rights and the environment.
"The likelihood that what emerges from the coming talks will serve ordinary Americans' interests is low. The outlook for ordinary citizens in other countries is even bleaker." -economist Joseph Stiglitz
With the US generally undercutting the EU's restrictions on food and chemicals, environmentalists warn that this may potentially open the door to the expansion of harmful practices such as the planting of genetically modified (GM) seeds.
International opposition to foods containing GMOs has long been a thorn in the side of American food giants and biotech companies such as Monsanto and Cargill.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” said Bill Waren, trade policy analyst at Friends of the Earth.
“The trans-Atlantic free trade agreement would give chemical companies and other multinational companies an effective weapon to roll back progress made over the last decade," he adds. “It could result in dangerous deregulation.”
In a conference call Monday, groups also expressed concern that the terms "could give Europe unlimited access to US natural gas supplies and thus increase the use of 'fracking' to meet the demand for exports," the Washington Post reports.
Further, the Guardian reports that US firms including Facebook, Google and Microsoft are seeking the relaxation of European data privacy rules despite recent controversy— following revelations disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—that the US is spying on its European counterparts.
Describing US tactics as "take no prisoners," Stiglitz notes that during negotiations "arms will be twisted, and there is a real risk that an agreement will sacrifice basic values to commercial interests."
Because of the size of the deal—covering 50% of global economic output and 30% of global trade—Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that the proposed pact "would create de facto global standards," which is worrisome for many.
Stiglitz concludes, "The likelihood that what emerges from the coming talks will serve ordinary Americans' interests is low. The outlook for ordinary citizens in other countries is even bleaker."