Greenpeace recently projected leaked excerpts of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership onto the German parliament building in Berlin. Activists have decried the documents, saying they represent a US attempt to lower European health and environmental standards. The papers don't back up all of their claims, and the US and EU remain at loggerheads over several issues. But consumer protections, environmental laws and food safety could all be at risk.
The TTIP is a free-trade agreement that has been negotiated behind closed doors since mid-2013. Its supporters argue it would create the largest free-trade area in the world, generating employment in key sectors including food, cosmetics, agriculture and telecommunications. The deal has already been publicly opposed on several occasions and over 3 million European citizens have signed a petition to stop it.
The leak was first published by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss responded by saying, “The EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible."
"The prospect of a TTIP compromising within that range is an awful one," he added. "The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards.”
His comments suggest the two sides could soon strike a deal, but a closer look at the texts suggest they've reached an impasse on several topics. For instance, an internal note by the EU negotiators states the discussions on cosmetics have been “very difficult” due to a European ban on animal testing that could limit market accessibility, according to The Guardian. Apparently the scope for agreement on common objectives remains “fairly limited” and the respective positions are “irreconcilable”.
The note also highlights other areas of disagreement. For instance, Europe has been reluctant to negotiate on chemicals, despite US objections to its standards. Meanwhile, the US has rebuffed Europe's attempts to regulate agriculture and engineering.
The bigger concern may be what the documents don't contain. Not a single reference to the COP21 conference on climate change can be found in the 248 leaked pages. Moreover, Europe doesn't appear to have any strong objections to a proposal to allow “low levels” of genetically modified food in its territory, despite a lack of consensus on the safety of GM products. And US attempts to influence the European legislative process have been largely unopposed, paving the way for American firms - including fossil fuel companies - to shape regional laws.
Europe's seemingly relaxed stance on these matters has stoked fears that authorities are prioritising free trade over consumer protection, food safety, the environment and other crucial areas of European law.
However, a deal remains a distant prospect. After the negotiations, 28 European governments and parliaments will have to approve it, and some of them are bound to hold a referendum. The recent leak could prolong the process even more, particularly as it has shed light on the more controversial aspects of the partnership.