Greenpeace Netherlands turned up the heat on the already troubled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations last week when it published 248 pages of the negotiation texts, covering 13 of the 17 chapters which are currently being discussed by United States and European Union trade representatives behind closed doors.
The leak, the largest so far, follows more than two years of TTIP document and information leaks that have alarmed NGOs and the public.
TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, boosted by its supporters as promoting trade and multilateral economic growth.
However, the newest leak sheds light on a document that appears to favour business at the expense of the environment, the general public, and democracy.
Greenpeace Netherland’s spokeswoman Faiza Oulahsen said that the documents divulge a TTIP — if it goes forward as drafted — that will likely contradict longstanding European laws meant to ensure that consumer protections, environmental safety, and public health take priority over the interests of corporations.
The most disturbing aspect of the leaked TTIP document, said Greenpeace Netherlands, was a seemingly total disregard for already existing environmental agreements, in particular established trade exceptions, protection clauses, and recent greenhouse gas emissions agreements.
The 248 pages of leaked documents, for example, make no mention of the General Exceptions rule, legislation built into the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that allows member nations to take measures out of line with GATT guidelines if determined necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life, or to conserve exhaustible natural resources.
This omission could allow business interests to trump the laws of national governments.
There’s also no reference in the leaked texts to any national climate agreements, or enforcement of the commitments recently agreed to as part of the Paris Agreement.
The texts also fail to mention the EU’s Precautionary Principle, which dictates that commercial products must be proven safe before being introduced to the market.
This approach is in stark contrast to the American release-now-ask-questions-later approach, Oulahsen explained, where the burden is on consumers to prove a product’s harm after it is marketed.
We’re reaching a tipping point in this debate, and the public pressure for transparency will likely only grow in the coming days and weeks.
Faiza Oulahsen, Greenpeace Netherlands
The danger of the American method is reflected in the legal battles required to pull DDT, neonicotinoids, and other pesticides from the US market, long after harm is identified.
“Standards are so very different between the US and EU,” said Oulahsen, “It is not sensible to amalgamate these positions, nor is it beneficial.”
Under the TTIP as now proposed, European businesses — forced by law to comply with rigourous EU standards — would potentially have to compete with a flood of American products not held to the same standards.
Likewise, with other foreign companies, formerly encouraged to adopt stronger environmental policies or consumer protections to remain viable in the enormous European market — those foreign firms would likely no longer need to comply to compete.
The leaked documents also show that TTIP would likely undermine democracy. According to the texts, member countries may be forced to surrender the ability to independently set and enforce policy and make legal decisions — with private corporations and investment parties able to engage in every step of the process if the outcomes could impact business bottom lines.
“All the time we talk about how international trade deals will help us in the race to the top, to the best solutions, but really the partnership as it stands will create a race to the bottom,” said Oulahsen. “Through TTIP, we’d essentially be signing away our right to democracy, giving outsiders the power to intervene and even change proposals before they ever reach Parliamentarians or the general public.”
Not all of these insights into TTIP backroom negotiations are new — bits and pieces surfaced in prior leaks, many of which demonstrated a bias toward business over the environment and the public. Germany’s Green Party began the chain of leaks, openly posting discussion texts online in March 2014. Since then more NGOs, advocates, and even TTIP insiders have added to the revelations.
European officials were tolerant of the leaks at first, but when CORRECTIV released some 100 documents as part of their #openTTIP campaign in the summer of 2015, TTIP negotiators intensified the shroud of secrecy surrounding their proceedings.
Members of Parliament and other legislators were stripped of their ability to access TTIP negotiation texts via a central online portal, and required instead to travel to a special reading room in Brussels to review TTIP reports.
“If you’ve seen any of the leaked documents, you have seen how difficult the texts are to understand, and yet parliamentarians are expected to review and make sense of them in the ‘dark room’, not allowed to have lawyers, experts, counsel, or even bring in their own paper and pencil to take direct notes,” Oulahsen said.
Such restrictions reveal a lack of transparency.
The security crackdown didn’t, however, slow efforts to bring negotiations to light. A month later, in August 2015, Wikileaks announced a crowd funding effort to raise a €100,000 reward in exchange for confidential TTIP information, an offer backed by a wide-range of public figures including former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and UK fashion icon Dame Vivienne Westwood.
As leaks escalated, so did public campaigning to call a halt to the TTIP talks, with one such petition garnering 3,448,190 signatures.
American and European officials have downplayed the importance of the newest leak.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström released a blog stating that the documents reflect negotiations between two groups with obviously differing viewpoints on many issues, not a bound outcome. Such back and forth discrepancies as those underlined should be expected, she said.
The United States Trade Representative (USTR), while similarly dismissive of the influence of the leaked texts on the final TTIP, has had far less to say than their European counterparts.
Despite numerous attempts to receive comment for this article last week, the USTR failed to reply to Mongabay’s queries.
EurActiv.com reports in an email that a spokesman for the USTR called the interpretations being made from the leaked texts “misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst,” adding “TTIP will preserve, not undermine, our strong consumer, health, environmental standards, and position the US and the EU to work together to push standards higher around the world.”
Obama Administration spokesperson Josh Earnest was also unconcerned by the newest round of leaks, and the US State Department’s John Kirby reasserted the administration’s position that TTIP negotiations would be concluded before the president leaves office.
Oulahsen countered by noting that the new leaks are unique in their scope, and possibly capable of shifting the TTIP discussion from the one-sided negotiations now underway, to an open debate between parliamentarians, NGOs and the public.
“In many ways, this leak has been unlike any we’ve seen before,” she concluded. “Clearly, we can now see where the EU hasn’t been honest in their position, and now for the first time we can also see the US’s position,” said Oulahsen. “I can’t foresee the future, but I can say I think we’re reaching a tipping point in this debate, and the public pressure for transparency will likely only grow in the coming days and weeks.”
This story is republished with permission from Mongabay.com