A freshly-leaked chapter from the highly secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, currently under negotiation between the United States and European Union, reveals that the so-called "free trade" deal poses an even greater threat to environmental and human rights protections—and democracy itself—than previously known, civil society organizations warn.
The revelation comes on the heels of global protests against the mammoth deal over the weekend and coincides with the reconvening of negotiations between the parties on Monday in New York.
The European Commission's latest proposed chapter (pdf) on "regulatory cooperation" was first leaked to Friends of the Earth and dates to the month of March. It follows previous leaks of the chapter, and experts say the most recent iteration is even worse.
"The Commission proposal introduces a system that puts every new environmental, health, and labor standard at European and member state level at risk. It creates a labyrinth of red tape for regulators, to be paid by the tax payer, that undermines their appetite to adopt legislation in the public interest," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe in a press statement released Monday.
Regulatory cooperation refers to the "harmonization of regulatory frameworks between the E.U. and the U.S. once the TTIP negotiations are done," ostensibly to ensure such regulations do not pose barriers to trade, the Corporate Europe Observatory explained earlier this month.
However, analysts have repeatedly warned that, euphemisms aside, "cooperation," in fact, allows corporate power to trample democratic protections, from labor to public health to climate regulations, while encouraging a race to the lowest possible standards.
The newest version of the regulatory cooperation chapter reveals that the European Commission is angling to impose even more barriers to regulations.
The chapter includes a "regulatory exchange" proposal, which will "force laws drafted by democratically-elected politicians through an extensive screening process," according to an analysis from CIEL.
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"Laws will be evaluated on whether or not they are compatible with the economic interests of major companies," the organization explains. "Responsibility for this screening will lie with the 'Regulatory cooperation body,' a permanent, undemocratic, and unaccountable conclave of European and American technocrats."
David Azoulay, managing attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law, told Common Dreams over the phone from Geneva that this red tape would apply to new and upcoming regulations, as well as existing ones. "What we are looking at here is potentially endless procedures at every step of the regulatory process, including once the legislation has been adopted," he said.
"We are concerned about this new version, because it would take power away from legislators and regulators and give it to this group of technocrats that is not elected and operates in secrecy," Azoulay continued. "Secondly, this would burden lawmakers with extremely heavy procedures, create red tape, and force legislators at the local, state, and federal levels to spend large amounts of time answering questions about regulations."
The regulatory cooperation plan was already widely opposed by civil society groups. Over 170 organizations denounced regulatory cooperation in a statement released in February: "The Commission proposals for regulatory cooperation carry the threat of lowering standards in the long and short term, on both sides of the Atlantic, at the state and member state/European levels. They constrain democratic decision-making by strengthening the influence of big business over regulation."
The potential implications of this latest proposal are vast, as the TTIP is slated to be the largest such deal in history. Taken together, the U.S. and E.U. account for nearly half of the world's GDP. The Obama administration is negotiating the accord alongside two other secret trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.
Analysts warn that the TTIP alone is poised to dramatically expand corporate power.
"Both the [E.U.] Commission and US authorities will be able to exert undue pressure on governments and politicians under this measure as these powerful players are parachuted into national legislative procedures," warned Kenneth Haar of Corporate Europe Observatory in a press statement. "The two are also very likely to share the same agenda: upholding the interests of multinationals."