An open door for GMOs? – take action on the EU-US Free Trade Agreement
At the end of June, the European Union and the US will officially launch negotiations for a new free trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The plan is to create the world's largest free trade area, 'protect' investment and harmonize regulation. While appealing to big business, the trade treaty poses a serious threat for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, as it could weaken labour, social, environmental and consumer protection standards. One of the greatest risks includes US negotiators using the trade deal to push for the EU to open its plates and fields up to GM crops.
Everything is on the table
The negotiation agenda is very broad. According to the leaked EU draft mandate it is likely to include “goods and services as well as rules on trade and investment related issues with particular focus on removing unnecessary regulatory barriers”, with the aim of promoting “the untapped potential of a truly transatlantic market place”. Basically, this means tackling what the Office of the United States Trade Representative understands as “technical barriers for trade”, among them EU restrictions on GMOs. (see pp. 61).
One of the core part of the negotiations is that both the EU and US should recognize their respective rules and regulations, which in practice could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The official language talks of "mutual recognition" of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers. However, for the EU, that could mean accepting US standards in many areas, including food and agriculture, which are lower than the EU's.
US officials state it quite clearly every time they have the opportunity: all so-called barriers to trade, including highly controversial regulations such as those protecting agriculture, food or data privacy are in their sights. Even the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.
A unique opportunity for big business
The negotiations are so broad that groups lobbying on the subject range from Toyota and General Motors to the pharmaceutical industry and IBM; not to mention the Chamber of Commerce of the US, one of the most powerful corporate lobby groups in the US. Indeed, Business Europe, the main organization representing employers in Europe, launched their own strategy on an EU-US economic and trade partnershipin early 2012, and their suggestions have been widely included in the draft EU mandate. Regarding agriculture, their demands include an “ambitious liberalisation of agricultural trade barriers with as few exceptions as possible”. Similarly, food lobby group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies (Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, etc.), welcomed the negotiations, one of their key demands being the facilitation of the low level presence of unapproved genetically modified crops. This is a long-standing industry agenda also supported by feed and grain trading giants including Cargill, Bunge, ADM, and the big farmers' lobby COPA-COGECA. Meanwhile, the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic offers its “support and assistance as the EU and the US government look to enhance their trade relationship”.
No doubt this trade deal is an unique opportunity to achieve through closed and non-transparent negotiations what hasn't been possible so far in a transparent and democratic way. Tactics used to convince Europe to introduce GMOs have even included involving US diplomacy, as revealed by a recent report from Food and Water Europe. The TTIP offers the perfect vehicle to bypass overwhelming opposition to GMOs by EU citizens, as confirmed in every European opinion poll.
According to a professional lobbyist, “EU-US trade negotiations will offer many US firms a second chance to get their interests implemented effectively in Europe. Thanks to this process numerous sectors that have been fighting for change for decades could see their fortunes turn around within a short period of time.” And of course, “US seed companies that for a decade have been struggling to break the deadlock over the authorization for the cultivation of their [GM] seeds now will be presented with the ultimate opportunity to change the entire process to suit their needs.”
Time to raise citizens' voices - take action
The European Parliament will vote 23rd of May on a resolution over the EU mandate for the negotiation of the TTIP. Corporate Europe Observatory and Friends of the Earth Europe have launched a joint campaign, Stop the Crop, to prevent the introduction of more GMOs into Europe's food and farming. We ask you to tell MEPs that EU citizens won't accept the introduction of GMOs through the back door. Public concerns must be debated openly and transparently!
NOTE: The European Parliament already voted. You can read about the results here
After the European Parliament vote, the European Council is expected to endorse the EU mandate to negotiate the TTIP in the Foreign Affairs Council dedicated to Trade on the 18th June. The negotiations could be formally launched on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland by mid June, and are intended to be finalised by the autumn of 2014.