TTIP – Back to a fact-based debate
A statement by Anton F. Börner, President of the Federal Association for Wholesale Trade, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA) and a member of the Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs (ACE).
The expectations of business and industry regarding the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States of America are high – and also confirmed by the forecasts of many experts. Nevertheless, the media in a number of EU countries are currently promoting the picture of Western Europe facing an imminent sell-out as a result of the agreement. Even though this is of course an exaggeration, it does reflect the level at which countless made-up stories are circulating on the subject of the planned free trade agreement. The fact that, for reasons of negotiation tactics, some of the negotiating documents are not accessible to the public makes it all too easy right now for a relatively small lobbying group critical of globalisation to make its voice heard, to the detriment of the silent majority. Fuelled by the new media, a real new “Industry of Fear Mark II” has developed.
We truly believe that greater transparency while the negotiations run their course would remove the breeding ground for all the prejudices. However, from the documentation now openly accessible to the public there is enough information to clear up some of the “disinformation”.
For example, the TTIP will not call into question any of the working or social standards of the EU Member States. This is expressly prohibited by the EU negotiating mandate, the terms of which we now know. In fact, the European Commission had already published its detailed position on this topic in the course of the first round of negotiations. Thus the TTIP will not restrict the freedom of the EU Member States to maintain or further pursue their own regulatory measures such as a minimum wage or provisions concerning protection against dismissal. A chapter on sustainability in the TTIP should ensure that the expansion of economic activities will not undermine socio-political measures.
Nor will the TTIP call into question any EU standards in the areas of food safety and consumer protection. Here there will be no undermining of mutually agreed standards. However, the applicable provisions should be made more compatible. This does not mean looking for the lowest common denominator, but rather identifying and eliminating any unnecessary differences. Each side will continue to retain the right to regulate legal, environmental, security and health matters in the manner it deems appropriate. Future standards will not be lowered by the planned “Regulatory Cooperation”. There will merely be a new mechanism to examine whether the USA and the EU might not be able to act in a better and more coordinated way. Furthermore, the TTIP will not jeopardise Europe’s –in part highly subsidised – cultural landscape, nor will the TTIP affect basic public services. The high level of protection for particular basic utility services at local level relating to water, health and education in the EU is not up for debate.
It is important that we should turn back to a fact-based debate. Let us not forget that the European Union owes the greatest part of its prosperity to free trade. History shows that protectionist policies have until now always failed. The EU will also benefit substantially from the liberalisation of trade via the TTIP. EU companies will obtain much easier access to the huge US market. Lower customs duties and fewer trade barriers will ensure improved export opportunities and higher sales. This development will also provide a positive and sustainable impetus for the labour market in the EU.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular would be the winners on completion of the TTIP negotiations, because many of these companies will only be able to gain some kind of foothold in the USA through easier market access. They are the ones that would benefit most from the harmonisation of unnecessary differences in technical and quality standards. The reason for this is that the costs generated by deviating regulations within the respective national borders represent the real challenge for trading companies, especially SMEs, as they have considerably fewer resources for coping with such overcomplicated rules.
We should therefore speak up more about the opportunities afforded by the TTIP. It is precisely in times when markets are rendered uncertain by different international flashpoints that it should become obvious that stable trade relations with the USA are of particular importance to European companies.
Anton F. Börner
President of the Federal Association for Wholesale Trade, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA) and a member of the Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs (ACE)
Translated from the original text in German