Greenpeace, a global environmental organization, has leaked papers pertaining to a possible trade deal in the works between the United States and the European Union.
The group warns that the deal could come with some harmful repercussions, criticizing the possibility of the EU relaxing its environmental standards and putting public health at risk.
Greenpeace managed to obtain classified documents detailing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade talks whose end goal, it seems, is to forge a new and far-reaching EU-U.S. trade deal.
The TTIP deal encompasses a wide range of goods and services from telecommunications to agricultural products, textiles, and intellectual property that are exchanged between the world’s largest national economy and the word’s biggest single market.
Because these talks were largely kept under the table, fears are arising that the deal could allow U.S. corporations to undermine consumer protections in Europe.
Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss affirmed these fears, stating, “These leaked documents confirm what we have been saying for a long time: TTIP would put corporations at the center of policy-making, to the detriment of the environment and public health.”
One of the major gripes that Greenpeace has with the deal is that the texts express a desire to replace the EU’s “precautionary principle” that protects consumers from potentially harmful products by forcing the manufacturer to prove the absence of danger from a product.
Instead, according to the environmental organization, the leaked documents show that the deal desires to substitute this careful approach with the U.S.’ s method of managing rather than eliminating any risks.
One area of concern in eliminating the “precautionary principle” is related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), whose impact on both the ecosystem and the food chain are a topic of debate.
While the U.S. allows the farming of over 170 varieties of GMOs, only one type (maize) is approved for commercial cultivation in the EU.
Fears that the TTIP deal will water down trade regulations have been fueled by the role of commercial arbitration courts, which are independent of national courts but are able to sue governments.
These courts could create the possible threat of large U.S. corporations magnifying legal pressures on some EU states. In the face of such pressures, some legislators might relax welfare protections.
Greenpeace is also slamming the TTIP deal for not including key details relating to environmental protections.
In response, the EU’s top trading officials have denied any accusations of attempting to lower EU standards. This past April, over 170 countries worldwide signed the Paris climate accord, which pledged to reduce carbon emissions globally to combat the rising threat of global warming.
Indeed, the European Commission had promised to include environmental sustainability within the trade deals but no such references exist within the leaked documents.
Rather, these officials and supports of TTIP claim that the goal of the agreement is to create new business opportunities. The deal is meant to harmonize regulations across the business sectors to encourage exports and, thus, economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pointing to the major and widespread benefits that the TTIP deal could bring President Barack Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a swift conclusion to the agreement.
The latest round of these negotiations (negotiatons which began in July 2013) by the TTIP occurred last week in the hopes of finalizing the deal by the end of 2016. The short time frame is a strategic move. The hope is to avoid the political risks that might threaten the deal associated with the U.S. presidential election in November.
However, there may be some difficulties in getting the deal approved. A final TTIP document would require approval from all 28 governments that are part of the EU as well as the European Parliament.
Furthermore, after decades of keeping a policy of free trade, there is resistance to the further liberalization of the exchange of goods, services, capital, and labor.
At the core of this resistance is fear that all of the benefit will go to corporations rather than consumers.
For many, these doubts have been legitimized by the recent surfacing of the Panama papers scandal, which revealed information about how global elites have secretly been harboring offshore bank accounts.
Faced with opposition over both environmental and economic concerns, the outlook for a quick resolution to the TTIP trade deal is shaky.