An important chapter of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade negotiations between the EU and US deals with ‘Regulatory Cooperation’. Whilst it may sound dull and harmless it poses and extremely serious threat to national governments’ right to regulate, for example to protect public health, consumer rights, workers or the environment. EPHA emphasises the need to defend governments’ and the EU’s right to legislate and set policies to address today’s major public health challenges posed by chronic diseases, overweight and obesity, antibiotic resistance and access to medicines and healthcare. Civil society organisations are unanimously concerned that the Regulatory Cooperation proposal views regulations to protect the public first and foremost as barriers to trade to be dismantled, whilst ignoring their purpose and benefits. The proposal is being touted as a harmless measure to cut ‘red tape’, but the fall out will be far wider and could well stifle any future policy action to protect public health.
A regulatory chill would be particularly disastrous in terms of health policy if it halts policy action on antibiotic resistance, access to medicines, alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods. The EU should maintain the unquestionable right to set policies to affect with the price, availability, or accessibility of goods which are harmful to health – which should be treated differently to other products.
A clear distinction should be made between technical cooperation on the setting of standards and attempts to influence public interest policy-making. The current proposal on Regulatory Cooperation would see TTIP become a ‘living agreement’ – meaning that negotiations can continue indefinitely on different product groups and chapters. This is a serious concern in terms of democratic scrutiny and public acceptability.
For example, negotiations on some sensitive aspects vital to public health, such as toxic chemicals and pesticides or food and farming safety standards, may progress away from the public eye at a later date, resulting in a weakening of comparatively stringent EU standards.
Lowest common denominator standards would also be against the economic interests of a knowledge-based economy like Europe. We have the innovation capacity to be at the forefront of healthy, cleaner, less polluting products and production practices.