The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to assist the CESI lunch debate on “TTIP: Fears of the Unknown” on April 28th, 2014. The event was jointly organised by CESI, U4U, Union for Unity and Unitee, the European – Turkish Business Confederation. Romain Wolff, CESI President opened the debate by raising a series of key questions about TTIP: What will TTIP change in our daily life? Are we well informed about the TTIP? Are we looking at another sort of NAFTA? What are the benefits and how can we measure them? Will there be short-term loses? Will SMEs run out of business? What role will there be for social partners, the European Parliament and civil society in the implementation of the agreement knowing that civil society’s role is limited in the process? In order to answer to these questions, BerndHüttemann, moderator of the event and Secretary General of European Movement in Germany gave the floor to the panel of speakers: Jan Schmitz, Trade negotiator in the European Commission, Paul de Clerck, Head of the Economic Justice team at Friends of the Earth Europe, Romain Pardo, Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre and Andreas Galanakis, Policy Director at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union.
Jan Schmitz, first panelist who intervened in the discussion gave an overview of TTIP and raised a number of topics which are currently debated. He defined TTIP as being “a trade agreement which goes beyond the classical elements of trade agreements.”
“We want to look on a case-by-case, sector-by-sector basis where the intended aim of regulation is the same but the facto implementation is different, e.g. car safety standards” he said.
He stressed, labour standards would not be lowered by TTIP, the aim being to set the minimum standards, under which we would not go below. Jan Schmitz added that the initial face of agreement was completed and that the second one – the negotiation phase – had just started. He concluded by stating that current criticisms were related to the existing system and that TTIP was introduced to improve this system.
Paul de Clerck, Head of the Economic Justice team at Friends of the Earth Europe argued the main gain from TTIP would be expected from the harmonization and making standards coherent between the EU and the US. “Deregulation of standards, that is what TTIP is about”, he said. He also explained standards and regulations would be lowered in order to make it easier for EU-US businesses to trade. In his view, there’s no evidence standards might be increased.
For Paul de Clerck, TTIP is a business driven agenda, meaning the EU position is very much influenced by the business lobby. In fact, most of the 130 meetings organised with external stakeholders were related to business.
Another question was raised: Is TTIP transparent? According to the Commission, it is more transparent than ever before. Nevertheless, if you compare it to other regulatory processes, it is less transparent, the Head of the Economic Justice team argued.
Romain Pardo, Analyst at the European Policy Centre brought up the issue of problematic sectors such as the agricultural sector which receives a lot of subsidies in both the EU and the US. The agricultural sector incorporates health and environmental factors, which explains why it is so difficult to tackle. A dispute can also be observed in relation to the aircraft subsidies (the US with Boeing & the EU with Airbus). Finally, the data sector can also be considered as a problematic sector since the issue of trust arises. Romain Pardo explained that trust between the EU and the US had been eroded by the NASA case and that the data protections prospective between the EU and the US were quite different.
Regarding the issue of transparency, Mr Pardo argued that the Commission was doing important efforts to increase transparency by listening to stakeholders.
According to Andreas Galanakis, Policy Director at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, trade is a good thing and it can also benefit businesses and SMEs. “EU-US trade partnership has been existing for a long time, it’s not something new”, he said. In his view, at the end of the day, the people who benefit the most are businesses and SMEs.
Dr Adem Kumcu, President of Unitee closed the debate by highlighting the importance of democracy, transparency and accountability. The challenges of TTIP are clear, in this context of economic crisis, we need to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
To conclude, Mr Adem Kumcu shared a quotation from James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.”