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NGOs call for transparency in EU-US trade talks
13 November 2013 / Europe,North America
NGOs and industry must be allowed to play a greater role in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), argued civil society organisations in Brussels on Monday, underlining that chemicals legislation will be one of the main issues in the talks.
There could be “consumer benefits” from the EU-US trade negotiations, which are taking place in Brussels this week (CW 5 November 2013), said Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), during an NGO press briefing on Tuesday. More competitive markets could lead to “lower prices, more consumer choice and less red tape,” she said. But equally they could “water down existing consumer legislation” in the EU and in US states such as California that have stricter legislation than that agreed at a national level.
To ensure this does not happen, the negotiations have to become more transparent, said Ms Goyens, pointing out that there is no stakeholder engagement between the Commission and industry, civil society or even other EU institutions such as the Council or the European Parliament on the talks. According to her, the Commission has cited “tradition” as the reason for keeping the negotiating texts secret. “We are in the twenty-first century,” she countered, pointing out that technology allows documents to be shared easily and that institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) publish negotiating texts. Greater openness in the EU was all the more important given that 600 industry advisors have been given access to the negotiating texts in the US, said Ms Goyens.
Civil society groups hope to learn by the end of the week whether and how the Commission will allow them to have more engagement in the negotiations.“Well before the negotiating rounds we need to be told what is on the agenda and have a briefing session where negotiators listen to us [industry and civil society] and hear what we believe will be the consequences of certain actions,” said Ms Goyens. “In a legal text, every comma matters, and it is important that one word is not used instead of another.” After each round, there should be a feedback session, she added.
“One of the main issues [of the talks] is REACH,” said Ms
Goyens. “TSCA and REACH are not compatible” (CW
12 November 2013). Baskut Tuncak, attorney with the
Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel), told Chemical
Watch that he was particularly concerned about EU calls
for a Regulatory Cooperation Council as part of the TTIP.
According to a speech made by EU trade commissioner Karel de
Gucht last month, this would “bring together the heads of the
most important EU and US regulatory agencies”. They would
“monitor the implementation of commitments made and consider
new priorities for regulatory cooperation” and “ask regulators
or standards bodies to develop regulations jointly that could
then have a good chance of becoming international standards.”
The possible impact of any trade deal on “established rights and standards” in the EU such as the precautionary and the polluter pays principles was highlighted by Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth in Europe, during the briefing. She also drew attention to concerns about the inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) in the trade deal.
“This is a huge issue for chemicals,” said Mr Tuncak. There are a number of cases related to environmental protection under way in the US where corporations are alleging breach of the investor provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)," he said. This could be a precedent for what could happen if such a mechanism were included in the TTIP, for example, with chemical companies fighting stricter US state legislation compared to national provisions.
-- Baskut Tuncak Staff Attorney, CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law) 1350 Connecticut Ave. Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036 USA