TTIP and sustainable development: harmony or contradiction?

Newspapers and the web regularly get excited about this issue of this well-known treaty. The secretive nature of its drafting makes it difficult to be sure where the truth lies. Find out what all the buzz is about here.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

                             Source: Wikimedia Commons

The European Union is negotiating a trade and investment deal with the United States of America: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), also called TAFTA by its opponents. In 2013, European Union governments gave the Commission a mandate to negotiate the TTIP with the United States.

Goals of the treaty

The main objective of the TTIP is to create the widest free-trade area in the world representing almost the half of the global gross domestic product. Both parties are willing to stimulate the economy through the standardization of legal regulations. An analyst noted the willingness of the European Union and the United States to join together in a rules-based system reflecting their common values in order to counter alternative models and systems represented by countries such as China and Russia.

Moreover, Europe expects with this treaty to achieve three main results, which are promoting trade and investment in green goods and technologies, upholding high standards for labor and environment both in the EU and the US and promoting corporate social responsibility and responsible business conduct. Furthermore, liberalization increases income per capita and the demand for environmentally clean goods, which means that market mechanisms will respond by themselves to this increasing demand.

Concerning sustainable development, the European commission issued a proposal on trade and sustainable development on the 6th of October 2015. The authors underline the benefit of considering trade and investment related labor and environmental issues globally.
Some of the aims are commitments to implement effective measures to ensure, measure and exchange information about the conservation of  biodiversity and sustainable use and management of natural resources, the spread of invasive species, the illegal trade of threatened, endangered, and other protected species of wild flora and fauna, sustainable forest management, the conservation and sustainable management of fisheries stocks and aquatic ecosystems…



Although the decisions will have a widespread impact and people would like to keep a keen eye on the negotiators, this is impossible because negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. Opponents consider that the negotiation doesn’t respect the democratic process.
An increasing number of politicians and citizen groups have criticized the secretive negotiations and are demanding that they be conducted in an open way. In April 2015, Yanis Varoufakis and Julian Assange offered 100 000 euros to anyone in exchange of the final TAFTA draft on WikiLeaks. However the draft is under a high level of security that will last for at least another year. The few people who have access to those documents have to stay in the room to read themand can’t carry cellphones or other electrical devices…


For the opponents, the text fails to adequately safeguard or meaningfully advance environmental protection systems or include any meaningful enforcement mechanism. Hormone treated meat, cloned cattle, chlorinated chicken and genetically engineered foods are commercialised in the US while the EU still prohibits all these things. NGOs are afraid that the EU’s position on those questions may be forced to change because of the treaty.

In fact, nothing in the text would prevent foreign corporations, on either side of the Atlantic, from challenging climate or other environmental policies via an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) mechanism or via the European Commission’s proposed “Investment Court System.” If a law affects the profits of a corporation, the corporation could sue the offending state for damages. Technically, such rulings require governments to compensate a foreign investor for the challenged policy, not to alter the policy. Of course, such costly rulings can have the effect of chilling public interest in policymaking but an ISDS tribunal could ignore this effect and decide that ruling against an environmental policy does not in any legal sense block the government’s right to regulate. A French environmental attorney described the proposed environmental safeguards as “virtually non-existent” compared to the protection granted to investors. He went on to state that environmental cases accounted for 60% of the 127 ISDS cases already brought against European countries under bilateral trade agreements in the last two decades, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

This treaty will continue to make a lot of noise… so we should keep an eye on it in the next months!



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