Not content with giving European big business an enhanced say in EU policy-making, proposals under the EU-US trade deal (TTIP) would seek to extend that to US trade authorities (acting on behalf of US corporations), binding both the EU and the US into this deregulation agenda. Not surprisingly, it was lobby groups on behalf of big business - BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce - which first lobbied the EU and US authorities to include it.
'Regulatory cooperation' is at the heart of TTIP meaning that, over time, the two regulatory rulebooks of the EU and the US would converge. In the EU where in most, but not all areas, regulations are tougher than in the US, this is likely to lead to further pressure for deregulation. But the negotiators have been canny. Fearing that legislators will reject any agreement which contains concrete proposals for deregulation in particular areas (allowing US chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef into the EU, for example), TTIP is likely to instead introduce new procedures which, once the TTIP dust has settled and it has been safely passed into law, will enable this hyper-deregulation phase to begin.
The main elements of the EU’s proposal for regulatory cooperation in TTIP include:
An early warning system so that the European Commission (which has the monopoly on initiating legislative proposals or implementing acts at the EU level), would need to discuss the idea (and potentially adapt it) with US trade authorities and offer them cooperation, before they are brought up for discussion with EU elected representatives in the Council and in the European Parliament.
Trade impact assessments which will have to include assessments of a given proposal’s impact on trade, or in other words, its impact on US companies.
Business groups are to be able to influence the cooperation programme significantly. If corporations on both sides of the Atlantic can agree on a “substantive proposal”, there is a short-cut to include it in the official work programme.
An institutional structure to guide the EU and US towards regulatory convergence. According to the EU proposal, it shall establish sectoral working groups (eg on chemicals, food standards, consumer rights) to work out strategies in specific areas and business lobby groups will have privileged access. It will be non-elected entities that will be the main actors under “regulatory cooperation”.
There will also be a series of sub-agreements on special procedures for particular sectors, and the influence of corporate interests is already making itself felt. The EU proposal on chemicals is strikingly similar to that of the chemicals lobby; the proposal on pesticides will block development of rules on pesticides in the US as well as the EU; and the proposal on financial regulation was hailed by TheCityUK, the financial lobby group, as "reflect[ing] so closely the approach of TheCityUK that a bystander would have thought it came straight out of our brochure on TTIP”.
Regulatory cooperation under TTIP is set to have a serious effect in the EU. It will increase the influence of the US trade authorities in EU politics, and it will strengthen the hand of US corporations, often working in tandem with their European counterparts. In practice, the regulatory cooperation agenda and the Better Regulation agenda will work hand in hand and be mutually reinforcing. Both processes are creating obstacles and delays for decision-makers who want to introduce new regulations, and they risk creating “regulatory chill” as law makers are discouraged from introducing new measures in the public interest.
Recently, the public was allowed to see a first glimpse of the US position on “regulatory cooperation” under TTIP. It happened when Greenpeace Netherlands was able to publish a series of leaked negotiation documents. From these documents we know that in general terms, the two sides agree on an approach to “regulatory cooperation”, on some points the EU has the most far reaching proposals, and on others the US is in the lead. The US, for instance, is clear in its attacks on the principles guiding EU food standards and chemicals regulation, and its negotiators suggest that anyone with an interest should be able to nominate a regulation for scrapping, if, for instance, it is deemed “too burdensome”.