EU, US trade negotiators get an earful from critics

GMT 21:32 2015 Thursday ,23 April

Arab Today, arab today EU, US trade negotiators get an earful from critics

New York - AFP

Opponents of controversial US-EU trade talks came out swinging at a public comment period Thursday, arguing the emerging agreement was a bad deal for consumers and the environment.

Critics of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) included Jean Halloran, a senior adviser at the nonprofit Consumers Union, who suggested a treaty would be the worst of all possible worlds, exposing European consumers to "faulty GM cars" and US children to toys that do not meet strict American standards.

"We cannot pursue mutual recognition or equivalence willy-nilly," she said.

Halloran's remarks came during a three-hour stakeholder comment session during the ninth round of TTIP talks, which concludes Friday.

The agreement, which could create the world's biggest free-trade pact, has been billed by President Barack Obama and European Union leaders as critical to boosting economic growth and jobs in both regions.

Obama last week called for "major progress" on TTIP, saying it and a proposed major trade pact with Asia-Pacific countries would "absolutely" benefit American workers. Supporters Thursday from across the business community emphasized that standardizing rules could boost jobs in both regions.

But the talks have prompted large protests in Europe, where thousands rallied last weekend in Madrid and Brussels and throughout Germany.

Opponents in the US have yet to take to the streets en masse, but about half of the roughly 60 scheduled presenters appeared to be TTIP foes, based on the names of their organizations. Some of the speakers did not show up, including Frack Free Nation and the Open the Cages Alliance.

Other frequent subjects of criticism included the secrecy surrounding the closed-door talks, as well as a dispute-resolution mechanism that campaigners say would undermine national sovereignty and favor big business.

Sharon Anglin Treat, a representative of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, said the trade agreement could gut stricter rules enacted by states, such as laws in Massachusetts and New Jersey to label or restrict bee-killing pesticides.

"US state laws and regulations do diverge from US federal law and EU regulations," Treat said. "That divergence is a hallmark of the US system of federalism and is enshrined in our Constitution."

But Ann Wilson of the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association urged negotiators to advance the talks, which offer the chance of uniform standards across jurisdictions.

"We are a global industry," she said. "It is important that we be able to operate on a global basis."

Eugene Philhower, a representative of the US Soybean Export Council, said that American farmers are as concerned about animal welfare and sustainability as their counterparts in Europe.

"American producers are just as interested in animal welfare," he said. "The biggest difference is whether to mandate it by the government."

If concluded, TTIP would be the world's biggest trade deal, linking about 60 percent of the world's economic output in a colossal market of 850 million consumers, creating a free-trade corridor from Hawaii to Lithuania.

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