The New York Times has just reported that European government officials have been taking pains to entertain corporations' deregulatory demands for the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). The European Commission appears to have mistakenly released minutes of confidential government meetings held with U.S. and European corporations to see how their priorities could shape the proposed U.S.-EU deal. This may not come as a shock to those in the U.S. who know that the Obama administration has been regularly soliciting private advice on both TAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from about 600 corporate trade "advisors" who are granted privileged access to negotiators and secretive trade texts.
But the just-released minutes of the meetings between EU officials and U.S. and European corporate heads (among other documents unearthed by Corporate Europe Observatory and the New York Times) reveal the incredible extent to which corporations are pushing for TAFTA to rewrite health, environmental, financial and other safeguards to be more convenient to industry interests. Here are a few of the sweeping TAFTA demands explicitly expressed by the corporations of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope.
- Corporations should get to write their own regulations: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope asked U.S. and EU officials to use TAFTA to establish a process for future policy development in which industry “stakeholders” on both sides of the Atlantic would be “at the table with regulators to essentially co-write regulation.” That is, the rules intended to keep banks from gambling with our money, to keep energy corporations from polluting our air, and to keep the food industry from contaminating our meals...should be written by the corporations themselves.
- Rules that cater to multinational corporations should be considered as an alternative to "domestic-oriented" safeguards: The corporate conglomerates asked the EU and U.S. government officials to establish in TAFTA a new methodology for second-guessing new consumer and environmental safeguards, pausing before enactment of the new protections to ask whether they are sufficiently convenient to trans-Atlantic corporations. In particular, they asked that regulators consider the possible "benefits" of scrapping proposed "domestic-oriented regulation" in favor of a "transatlantic regulatory alternative." Even the European Commission noted that this "would seem problematic, as most regulators will be mandated to achieve certain objectives in view of their domestic market and its citizens." Ditching the core democratic tenet that policies should be made on behalf of the electorate? Yes, that would be problematic.
- Foreign products that do not meet domestic standards should be allowed if foreign regulators mean well: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pushing for TAFTA to include obligations for European products and services that do not meet U.S. standards to be allowed in the U.S. under a process called “equivalence" -- in which EU regulations, though different, would be deemed roughly "equivalent" to U.S. protections (the same would apply for U.S. products in the EU). Now the unearthed minutes of the private meeting between European officials and corporate representatives reveal that the Chamber would like TAFTA to require such automatic U.S. acceptance of European products and services on the mere basis that both sides' vaguely-worded regulatory objectives sound similar. In the private meeting minutes, the European Commission notes, "Chamber pushing strongly for 'top'-down, i.e. ‘if general objectives’ of regulation are the same we shall consider the regulations as equivalent without a thorough assessment." Such a reckless approach to consumer safeguards could threaten everything from the safety of milk to the stability of banks.
These unabashed corporate demands, and the European government's careful consideration of them, reveal what's at stake in TAFTA. The safety standards on which we rely daily for our food, the energy policies needed to avert climate catastrophe, and the Wall Street reforms designed to prevent another financial crisis--these are policies that should be determined in open, democratic venues where we have a say. Not in backroom discussions between government officials and corporate executives. Not under the guise of a "trade" deal.