by | November 4, 2013 | Opinion

EU-US trade agreement | Would it benefit Europe’s public health?

In late October, EPHA attended a Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue’s (TACD) event intended to debate the prospective Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US and whether and how it is to benefit the consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. The event brought up a number of crucial considerations to be looked into what relate to public health issues. In a nutshell, this seminar stressed that the TTIP is mostly a drive towards de-regulation and a least-trade restrictive framework possible with potential drawbacks to public health.

4th October 2013 – In the summer of 2013, major trade negotiations between the EU and the US were launched. The aim of these talks is to agree on a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP) making trade less ‘burdensome’ for the world’s two biggest economies. The major focus of the negotiations is to remove ‘barriers to trade’: namely regulatory convergence/harmonization in relation to a wide range of economic sectors – food safety and labelling, data protection, intellectual property rights (IPRs), financial services, environmental protection or agriculture, inter alia. All of them are related to the public health domain.

Although all TTIP-related texts are secret to public scrutiny (an issue of transparency that needs to be addressed in itself), some leaked versions and other free trade agreements‘ already well-documented implications point to a direction it would be of potential negative effect on public health outcomes.

Examples of the TTIP potential negative effect on public health outcomes
This TACD background document outlines some of the issues that might significantly affect the food and nutrition dimension if TTIP’s negotiating texts are approved in its present form. The issue of food, especially its aspects of safety, precautionary principle, choice and nutrition, have been consistently brought to the limelight. There is also an issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in discussion. From a recent report launched by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP): Promises and Perils of the TTIP: Negotiating a Transatlantic Agricultural Market, we can learn that “the agreement could also have a significant impact on the evolution of agricultural markets and food systems in the U.S. and EU.” “TTIP proposals on Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), such as product labeling, seek to go beyond WTO commitments and include pressure to subject SPS and TBT standards to Investor-State Dispute Resolution (see later). There is also pressure to lower EU standards on meats and poultry, including those on hormone-treated beef, controversial growth promotion hormones, such as ractopamine and chlorinated rinses of poultry carcasses. The EU, for its part, is seeking to overturn limits on its exports of beef despite concerns over EU member state controls to prevent Mad Cow Disease.

Another item worth deliberation that we can read about in the ITAP’s report relates to Procurement Policies and Local Foods. Notably, “as part of the global movement towards healthier foods, new governmental programs, such as the U.S. Farm to School programs and similar initiatives in Italy, Denmark and Austria (note: not the EU SFS as locality is not a factor in public procurement there; although from logistics point of view it does play a significant role), include bidding contract preferences for sustainable and locally grown foods in public procurement programs (…) Both the U.S. and EU have criticized “localization barriers to trade.” The EU, in particular, has been insistent on the inclusion of procurement commitments in TTIP at all levels of government, for all goods, and in all sectors—potentially including commitments on these public feeding programs.” So how will this all add-up to a current EU Roadmap for a Resource-Efficient Europe (energy efficiency, green public procurement, sustainable production and consumption, food waste)?

For all the above outlined reasons, many consumer and public health organisations would oppose a trade agreement that would weaken existing protection in the EU and the US, undermine global efforts to improve access to good nutrition and fight diet-related non-communicable diseases (especially obesity pandemic), increase food volatility and the extreme dominance and control in food supply chains, as well as undermine the global fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

The list of potentially worrisome developments goes on.

The issues of Data Protection in TTIP, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and TTIP, as well as Investor-State Dispute and TTIP are also very relevant to the concerns raised by consumer and public health community. For example, EPHA Position on General Data Protection reform outlines what’s at stake for public health, and we can see this mirrored in TTIP debates. Issues of the IPRs frequently come back in relation to access to medicines, clinical trials, research and innovation debates. And last but not least, a case of Investor-State Dispute in TTIP may lead to letting-in worrisome developments like Phillip Morris vs. Australia in light of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) debate or Eli Lilly vs. Canada – to sue EU MS governments for restrictions on their trade practices in relation to all major disease risk factors like tobacco, alcohol, food, drug patents, environmental pollution and so on.
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