The mute debate…
…and a common market generating GDP of 32,000,000,000,000 dollars.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement, in short TTIP, is the biggest trade deal the EU has ever negotiated and it could greatly influence daily life on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the subject matter of this transatlantic market and removal of trade barriers has not been prominent in public debate and is hardly a discussed political issue.
At first glance, the TTIP appears straightforward: the removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers such as regulations and subsidies will lead to substantial economic growth, some promise a 5% GDP increase, and create jobs. The American narrative follows along the line that linking the two biggest markets of the globe, each producing annually fifteen trillion dollars in goods and services, benefits mutual investment. It is emphasized that with increasing global competition, the EU and the US have to ensure their leadership on trade rules and standards. The European Commissioner for trade Karel de Gucht admitted in an interview with German TV that TTIP is the biggest bilateral trade association – by far. He further says that the effects for the European economy remain largely unforeseeable. Naturally it is repeated that the agreement will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, cause growth and better position the bloc: “The battle in trade is nowadays about norms, regulations, and subsidies.” It seems that the Western world’s strategy is to continue exerting power by fusing its markets. The rest of the world would have little choice but adapting to the demands of the US and EU because of their economic hegemony.
When asked about the removal of regulations de Gucht hesitates. Of course the EU would not want to compromise on consumer protection and safety standards. After concluding the Fifth Negotiation Round the EU head negotiator also answered: “We have not reached common understanding on the issue yet.” When confronted with citizens concerns, both sides do not get tired of emphasizing the high compliance costs as an obstacle to business. One does not need to be an economic expert to question the logic of both sides keeping their respective regulations and standards, but at the same time removing trade barriers and recognizing each other’s products. Does this mean that you can sell genetically modified food in the EU and Kinder chocolate eggs in the US? No one knows where the line will be drawn.
High compliance costs are an obstacle to business. But where is the line drawn in consumer protection?
No one knows because there has been little transparency. Whereas the EU normally does not hesitate to publish every second of a meeting, the US embassy in Berlin has noted that “like any negotiation, TTIP preliminary discussions require a degree of confidentiality until negotiations are concluded.” It continues that before and during negotiations both sides consult closely with all stakeholders. This phrasing and presentation of the neoliberal project is to be seen highly critical. One can ask why trade negotiations call for certain secrecy and who are these stakeholders?
In general, it is important to question whose interest lies in concluding the TTIP-deal? Again, the official sides confirm that especially medium-sized and start-up firms would profit. On the other hand, the negotiations are directed by technocrats and large business representatives. It is doubtful that either of them considers concerns of small business when discussing regulations and tariffs. Why does no one acknowledge that increased competition can be indeed harmful for medium business? In fact, by assimilating standards mostly large enterprises benefit as they can take advantage of a larger market and uniformly mass-produce. And what about the consumer-us? It remains open if companies would transfer a reduction in their costs to the price level. However, the past has shown that this tends to be not the case. Regarding our product choice it is questionable if more products and services from overseas would increase our standard of living.
To sum up, the EU and the US are about to conclude the biggest trade agreement history has seen. At the same time, politicians and the public alike have not entered a lively discussion about the topic, also due to the lack of information about this “Economic-Nato”. In my personal view TTIP seems too big of a project. The US and the EU have very different business models, one traditionally focusing more on mass production and efficiency while the other carries a larger historical development, social partnerships and tax burdens. The free trade agreement appears a bit too ambitious and also unwanted in the public. It would be worthwhile to consider taking one step back and to start with smaller steps and remove single tariff barriers. TTIP could pose the hottest issue for the newly elected European Parliament and Commission, but they need to start to talk openly about it and inform the public.