Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday to protest against a planned free trade deal, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labour and environmental standards.
A recent YouGov poll showed that 43% of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26% who see it as positive.
“More needs to be done to explain to people and keep explaining what the TTIP negotiations will lead to, what it will mean for imports and exports. It is for the negotiators, together with national governments who have signed off the negotiators' mandate, to inform the public as the general backlash seems to be because of a lot of misinformation,” said Florence Ranson, director of communications at FoodDrinkEurope (FDE).
“The public are worried that there will be compromises on food safety and quality of foods imported to Europe. But we are not worried as the Commission has repeatedly said there will be no compromises in standards.”
‘TTIP best for SMEs’
The food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the EU in terms of turnover (€1,048bn) and employment (4.2 million jobs). According to FDE, the deal offers great opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises in Europe that currently make up 99% of the food industry, as it cuts down on red tape.
“They need to develop their market. Innovation is a great way to expand but so are export and trade and the US is the first largest trading partner outside of Europe, followed by Russia,” Ranson said.
“Europe’s food is one of the safest in the world and we want to sell safe products in the interest of consumers and companies. We do not want any compromise and the Commission has said the standards are non-negotiable, but for some reason, some people do not seem to believe or trust the TTIP.”
Ranson added that following the ninth round of negotiations that the European negotiators resumed today in New York, they will have a clearer picture on what to expect. “It’s really a step by step thing. We are in favour of a broad agreement and will only know at the end of the week whether we can we can be optimistic about it or not.”
MEPs last month had met for proposed amendments to TTIP’s investor principle in Riga which were drafted in an attempt to address concerns voiced in a 2014 public consultation, where a vast majority of individual responses rejected TTIP in its entirety.
Lack of transparency, not misinformation
However, BEUC, the European consumer organisation disagreed and said what is being regarded as miscommunication was a lack of transparency. It said the US should follow the example of the European Commission and publish its proposals.
Additionally, the public should have access to the consolidated texts of the negotiations. “When crucial consumer standards are on the table, society has every right to know what is being negotiated. Until more light is shed, it is only natural that consumers will be suspicious of TTIP,” said Elisavet Sergiadou , communications officer at BEUC.
She added that health and safety should be put ahead of a desire to increase trade flows between the EU and the US. Any EU move to approve chemical rinses for decontaminating chicken carcasses, for example, would be a major blow to consumers’ faith in policy makers as “it wouldn’t live up to their promises not to lower EU food safety standards”.