When negotiations on the proposed Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) took a hiatus during the government shutdown, corporate groups urged the Obama administration to push forward with the sweeping deal. U.S. and EU officials now plan to restart closed-door TAFTA talks in Washington in December.
What will they be talking about? Given that tariffs between the U.S. and the EU are already low, TAFTA proponents readily acknowledge that the agreement is not really about trade, but rather the rewriting of regulatory policies so as to remove “non-tariff barriers” –- a corporate code name for environmental, health, and consumer safeguards on which we all depend.
What particular safeguards could be dismantled via these corporate-advised "trade" negotiations? The European organization Seattle to Brussels Network has released a worrisome report that outlines some of the public priorities that corporations on both sides of the Atlantic have asked to be placed on the TAFTA chopping block:
1. Clean air and water:
The report notes that industry groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been calling for TAFTA to "harmonize" U.S. and EU environmental rules -- that is, replacing existing domestic environmental protections with ones negotiated to be more convenient to business. Corporations have been taking particular aim at the EU's climate stability policies, pushing for a downward "harmonization" with U.S. standards via TAFTA. The report also explains how TAFTA could encourage a surge in the dangerous process of fracking in the U.S. while chilling green jobs programs.
2. Food safety:
So-called “non-tariff barriers” also include food labeling and sanitary standards that keep consumers safe. In Europe, bans on genetically-modified food, hormone-treated beef and pork, and chlorine-sterilized chicken could be weakened. In the U.S., basic dairy standards and restrictions on "mad cow" beef could be threatened.
3. Internet freedom:
If a chapter on "intellectual property rights" is included in the deal, TAFTA could serve as a backdoor way for business groups to quietly push through components of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), both of which were defeated due to intense public protest. The report notes that the leaked European Commission mandate for TAFTA, which sets a blueprint for the agreement, indeed proposes the inclusion of "intellectual property" provisions, opening the door to SOPA/ACTA-like rules.
4. Chemical safeguards:
According to the report, there are about 30,000 chemicals associated with cancer, infertility, diabetes, and obesity that have to undergo much stricter testing requirements in the EU than in the U.S. "If the EU caves in under industry pressure," states the report, "a likely casualty of [TAFTA] will be REACH – the EU’s iconic safe chemicals law that many consumer, health and environmental groups in the US have tried to replicate." Such an outcome would not only undermine the EU's stronger chemical safety standards, but make it far more difficult to improve the weaker U.S. standards.
5. Wall Street reform:
As regulators draft rules for big banks to prevent the sort of risk-taking that led to the financial crisis, the banks themselves are pushing for TAFTA to restrict such reregulatory efforts. The report notes that European banks have openly called for TAFTA to be used to roll back key components of U.S. Wall Street reforms. In response, EU TAFTA negotiators have pushed for financial regulation to be included in TAFTA's deregulatory framework, posing a threat to financial stability.
And that’s only a sampling of the issues at stake under TAFTA. To learn more, check out Seattle to Brussels’ full report, “A Brave New Transatlantic Partnership.”