Transatlantic Trade: What the Latest Leak Means for Science-Based Safeguards

May 10, 2016

By Yogin Kothari

On Monday, Greenpeace Netherlands released 248 pages of leaked documents from the ongoing negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union. The documents reveal a lot of interesting information, and also seemed to confirm some of the concerns my UCS colleagues and many of our partners have had about this trade deal.

One of the leaked chapters divulges how the U.S. and Europe could address the process of developing standards, such as protecting consumers from toxic chemicals or from unsafe drugs and medical devices, in a potential trade deal. What seems clear is that the U.S. wants the E.U. to adopt a regulatory system akin to ours. That’s not necessarily a good thing, considering that we often see important science-based public health and safety standards weakened or delayed due to the structure of our system.

Following the leak, I reached out to Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and an expert on the rulemaking process, for his thoughts on the leaked regulatory cooperation chapter, and what it might tell us about the future of the negotiations. Weissman has followed the negotiations closely.

A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Yogin: One of the concerns many people have with TTIP is whether it could undermine science-based safeguards and increase special interest influence over the process to develop public protections. Does the newest leak confirm these fears? How so?

Weissman: It does confirm those fears. If you focus on the regulatory cooperation chapter, it is evident that the U.S. is trying to impose its regulatory system on the Europeans. There are a lot of conflicts in the regulatory rulemaking culture between the U.S. and the E.U., but I think it’s fair to say first that the U.S. system in practice is heavily tilted towards corporate interests. At the core of the U.S. system is cost-benefit analysis [learn more here], which is in extreme tension with the core of the E.U. system, the precautionary principle [learn more here]. The U.S. cost-benefit system claims to elevate science but in fact it’s the precautionary principle that is much more grounded in science. The U.S. system says where there is uncertainty, it’s very difficult to act and regulate, and the E.U. system is much more motivated towards regulatory action to deal with uncertain but very real risks. You see that in all kinds of areas including science and non-science based regulation. You see it in financial areas, consumer protection areas, etc.

Corporations are able to use the endless analytic requirements in the U.S. rulemaking process to delay and often block the issuance of rules. These analytic requirements looking at costs typically require regulators to rely on industry estimates, even though there is abundant evidence [see silica] that industry routinely inflates costs because they fail to account for innovation and economic dynamism. So the U.S. system makes it very hard to get rules out to deal with problems big and small and it will be a very bad thing if TTIP exports that system to the E.U.

Yogin: What do you think the impacts will be on the process of putting stronger science-based health and safety protections in place if TTIP includes the language revealed by the leaked papers?

Weissman: We don’t know. The proposals from the U.S. and E.U. are not contradictory but they’re very different. The U.S. proposal is much more aggressive. It aims to impose U.S. processes on the E.U. We would absolutely see big changes in the E.U. where corporations would be given multiple bites at the European rulemaking process that they now get in the U.S. And it wouldn’t just be that they would get the right to provide input, it would be that the decision-making criteria for regulators would change and follow the U.S. style cost-benefit approach. It’s an unfortunate fact that in environmental and consumer health protection, European standards are now more stringent than the U.S., whereas the U.S. was the gold standard in many of these areas a few decades ago [see thalidomide]. We’ve been surpassed by the E.U., as well as others. But the ability of Europe to continue innovating new protective standards based on new science, technologies, challenges, and possibilities, would be greatly diminished if the U.S. proposals were put into place.

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One comment on “Transatlantic Trade: What the Latest Leak Means for Science-Based Safeguards”

  • No matter how many times this guy repeats his “science-based safeguards” mantra, it can’t obscure the fact that most agricultural regulation in Europe is designed to appease unscientific, fear-mongering pressure groups like the UCS and Greenpeace. Every real scientific body in Europe and the USA says, for instance, that GMOs are safe and that pesticide residues below certain levels in foods are safe. Just reading statements like “the precautionary principle is based on science” makes me laugh. No, it is invoked to stifle science. And the result of all this precaution? There are no appreciable differences in cancer rates or food induced sickness rates between EU and other countries. No, these stricter regulations came in handy to protect European farmers from foreign competition. Yes, TTIP will have to reconcile these different regulatory regimes.

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