Partner at the firm, Dominic Watkins, told delegates at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam last week that even European companies with no intention of exporting to the US are likely to be affected by the law when it comes into force.
“Competitors may have easier access to your market than they do at present, especially if you consider the removal of regulatory burdens. If you allow a competitor less strict regulation it could potentially cause a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “…It’s change we all need to be aware of, whether we are exporters or just operating in this jurisdiction.”
Myths, concerns, and opportunities
Some of the main areas of concern, claiming headlines across Europe and in the US, have been meat treatments, hormone-treated beef, novel foods, pesticide laws and origin-protected products. Many of these have been highlighted as potential threats to European products, where legislation tends to be more rigorous, while US food producers are concerned that applying EU rules on such issues could create barriers to trade.
“There are some myths and urban legends about what TTIP will do,” Watkins said. “…However, it is an enormous opportunity. There is potentially a big prize there.”
As negotiations are ongoing, there is no final text, but the EU starting text is available, although Watkins describes it as “high level and quite vague”. The final shape of the legislation is still very much open to speculation.
Barriers to agreement
“The European Union alone has enough trouble coming to agreement so when you try to build on a US agreement as well it becomes quite difficult,” he said. “We could potentially see a whole lot of change in regulation on this side of the Atlantic to bring it into harmony with the other side of the Atlantic, and vice versa.”
However, that would be far from easy, he said, outlining the differences in approach to GMOs and allowed health claims, as two stark examples of EU-US divergence. On health claims, while American food companies can make strong disease reduction claims, even referring to cancer prevention for fruits and vegetables, EU claims tend to refer to maintenance of the status quo, he said.
Watkins added that he wouldn’t be surprised if certain products were excluded from the legislation – such as livestock and meat treatments – because of an inability to agree.
Optimism for sustainability
As for sustainability, the EU has said it wants a “comprehensive and ambitious approach to trade and sustainable development issues”.
Watkins says there is cause for optimism that such a deal may pan out.
“It may well help move us forward and make sustainability into a bigger issue,” he said. “But maybe I’m being naïve.”
Meanwhile, a European Citizens’ Initiative, Stop TTIP, has gained over two million signatures from EU countries. An ECI only needs one million signatures in seven countries to oblige the European Commission to analyse the legislation.