'We must stop TTIP lie’, says Foodwatch director

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'We must stop TTIP lie’, says Foodwatch director

Related tags: Free trade, International trade

The TTIP trade agreement pitches European legislative sovereignty against the workings of “free trade liars,” says the director of NGO Foodwatch Thilo Bode.

In a scathing interview with Euractiv, Bode accused politicians of exaggerating the economic benefits and falsely presenting facts from ‘outlandish’ studies, ‘turning one-time increases into annual growth rates​’.

If a majority of Europeans are not already against TTIP - Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - it is simply because they are misinformed he said, calling for people to join the 1.5 million signatories who have petitioned against the trade agreement.

National law challenged by private companies

On its website, Foodwatch drew attention to TTIP’s controversial investor protection clause – the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – which it claimed would enable a company to seek compensation from a government if it considered the laws of a country had damaged profits.

Foodwatch claimed that ISDS could allow private firms to challenge ‘democratically voted’ legislation.

“Imagine if tomorrow a European country decided to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors (for example Redbull, Burn or Monster), the manufacturers concerned could attack the state and claim compensation using the ISDS,” ​the site said.

Yet according to Bode, the biggest encroachment of legislative sovereignty is the binding nature of TTIP in international law.

“EU law or German law may not violate standards which were agreed on in TTIP. As a result, our legislators cannot one-sidedly improve standards that are mutually recognised. They are dependent on the approval of their US trade partner.”

Despite the fact that the EU has called the negotiations ‘the most transparent trade talks’ it has ever conducted, member states have called for clarification over certain clauses.

Last month UK business secretary Vincent Cable said he wanted to see ISDS tightened.

 “Some people fear that investors could sue us for losses and win if the government takes a decision – on health, the environment or consumer safety – in the wider public interest. We must demonstrate clearly that this could never happen,” ​Cable said.

Set our own standards, protect our principles

TTIP supporters claim that the agreement allows Europe and the US to set their own food safety standards, pre-emptively preventing rising economic power China from dictating terms later on.

Bode, referring to the poisoned infant formula scandal which rocked China in 2008, rubbished this as “utter nonsense.”

“China is not going to dictate to us what kind of safety standards should be applied to baby food. Of course we are able - and even obliged - to set our own standards.

If we submit to this fear mongering in politics, then we are eliminating ourselves as designers of globalization,​” he said.

The NGO drew attention to another contentious point of the trade agreement: the principle of precaution.

“In Europe, when a substance is suspected to be hazardous it is up to the manufacturer to prove that its product is harmless. This applies of course to the treatments used by our farmers on fruit and vegetables for example. Just a single scientific doubt (…) is enough to ban them outright.

“The US … sometimes waits until a death before prohibiting a supposedly dangerous product. The precautionary principle does not exist there.​”

While Bode warned that European negotiators may compromise this principle and lower safety standards, Vince Cable made assurances that this would not happen:

“If we can recognise mutually high standards with the US we will do so. But where we can’t, US businesses will have to raise their game to meet our higher standards, not the other way around,” ​Cable added.

Unnecessarily complex

Bode stressed that he was not opposed to free trade, but rather TTIP in its current form.

“We do not need an agreement as highly complex as TTIP. A transatlantic equivalence agreement for organic foods already exists, allowing mutual recognition of product standards and organic certifications. We need a free trade agreement that is purely limited to technological standards.

“Precisely because I am for free trade, I say that we must stop TTIP.”

The full interview can be read here

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