TTIP: what about the underlying values?
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA is currently the subject of much heated debate among many Europeans. In fact, some of the issues it raises run much deeper than those that are usually the subject of public debate.
For COMECE, the planned EU-USA trade talks and the values that underpin them have become an important matter and it will be the main topic of discussion at the Autumn Plenary Assembly of the COMECE bishops. Against this background, the COMECE Secretariat has assigned the theme of “Europe and the USA – free trade and joint responsibility” to this year’s round of the socio-ethical talks that it holds annually with the Catholic Social Sciences Centre (KSZ).
Around 80 participants, including an American delegation made up of His Excellency Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami, His Excellency Timothy Broglio, Archbishop to the US forces based in Washington D.C. and four experts from US Catholic University faculties, met at the end of June in Mönchengladbach. Their task was to analyse the opportunities and risks of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership from both American and European perspectives.
Do we have shared values?
According to Prof. Philippe Nemo of France, Ancient Greece, the ancient Roman Empire, the Papal and democratic revolutions of the modern age and, last but not least, the Bible and its teachings of love for one’s neighbour – all these have built up a foundation that is shared on both sides of the Atlantic, even if there are certain differences in interpretation.
The experienced US diplomat John Kornblum also referred to the need to ensure the effectiveness of joint values in relations between Europe and America, an area in which the Churches can play a particularly important role.
Opportunities and risks of the TTIP
When analysing the possible consequences of this trade agreement, particular emphasis was placed on its potential for producing a range of economic benefits, especially the creation of new trade outlets, increases in productivity leading to wage increases. The TTIP could also trigger a new economic dynamism, offering incentives to entrepreneurs and investors. Quite apart from the economic prospects, a free trade zone of this kind could also facilitate the exchange of ideas and some technology transfers.
On the other hand, the TTIP is not entirely risk-free. The liberalisation of the service sector (that employs the majority of the workforce) could easily undermine their protection. In addition to a range of controversial laws covering food safety, particular care is also needed, especially in financial and insurance regulations, to guard against the triggering of any more financial crises in future. There is also a risk that the intensification of trade could lead to large-sized corporations becoming even bigger, and that too might engender further inequality.
What ethical standards should be observed?
It is therefore essential to ensure that these negative consequences are avoided by basing the TTIP on sound values. German professor Dr Ursula Nothelle-Wildfeuer believes that an appropriate framework for this can be found in the principles of the social market economy, expressly recognised by the EU in the Treaty on the European Union (Article 3 (3)).
The basic principles of a social market economy, shaped by the Christian code of social ethics, would require that the economy can never be an end in itself, but must take a position that serves the common good. This means that there is no contradiction between the economy and morality, provided the former takes account of human dignity and does not allow human beings to become mere cogs in the production machine.
Furthermore, the free-trade agreement can only be ethically justified if it does not prevent any developing and newly-industrialised countries from having their share of the benefits enjoyed by the richer countries.
Freedom should be a fundamental principle of the TTIP. But in this context, freedom should be understood as a positive freedom which encourages entrepreneurial business activities. However, if this freedom is also supposed to lead to fairness of participation, it has to be bound by a clear set of conditions enabling participation, inclusion and the fair distribution of goods.
According to Prof. Thomas Kohler, the interpretation of the meaning of freedom contains certain leanings towards the American view, which understands freedom in the sense of the absolute sovereignty of the individual and also of the market regarding decision-making.
Nevertheless, when comparing the European and American points of view that emerged at the conference, it became quite clear that both sides see the planned TTIP as an opportunity for greater prosperity, all the while remaining aware of their shared responsibility to base this trade agreement on ethical standards that reflect our Western values as shaped by Christianity.
Translated from the original text in German