Book Review — ‘TTIP: The Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’

What if the truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is that it is just a colossal waste of everyone’s time?

De Ville and Siles-Brugge are certainly not the first to posit the question, but they are the first to explore it in paperback.[1] They finish their timely tome sounding less convinced:

“ Imagine all the resources, personnel and time spent on TTIP being dedicated to the joint fight against climate change, or tax evasion and unfair tax competition, for decent work and decent wages, less inequality … take your pick!”

The bulk of the book is — as you would expect — dedicated to assessing whether TTIP really will heal Europe’s creaking economy (probably not) and succeed in reinforcing Western rule making power in the face of a challenger from the East (seems unlikely; that ship has sailed). The arguments here are well made and, unsurprisingly, I agree with them. Indeed, I have been making similar arguments for quite a while now, if in a more haphazard manner.

However, if it is true that those promoting TTIP are squandering precious political capital better spent elsewhere, the same question must be asked of those standing across the aisle. Are my ilk and I — speaking as someone who has spent the past 18 months rallying against the deal — equally culpable?

This, for me, is where the book gets interesting. In turning their lens towards civil society, De Ville and Siles-Brugge provide an avenue for self-reflection rarely made available to activists and campaigners.

First they take on the oft overblow rhetoric. Will TTIP result in a deregulatory avalanche, with all the worst things from the US landing in Europe, and vice versa? I’m talking chickens washed in chlorine, beef pumped up with hormones, genetically modified salmon, and eye liner that turns you blind. They conclude not. These have been sticking points in trade talks between the EU and US for a long time and it would be politically toxic for the EU to back down.

However, they do identify a more subtle threat, one they fear campaigners have failed to pick up on:

“… TTIP’s main consequence is expected to be a reinforcement of economistic disciplines in decision-making. In other words, it may lead to the effects of regulatory proposals being increasingly judged against their consequences for trade, competitiveness and economic growth. What is being proposed in the agreement is thus largely in line with the preferences of businesses on both sides of the Atlantic seeking to reduce their costs by minimising not only barriers to transatlantic trade but also the impact of domestic rules and regulations.”

De Ville and Siles-Brugge proceed to argue that the intense civil society focus on the future perils of an eventual agreement is causing European campaigners to overlook a more pertinent threat. The EU has in recent years — at the behest of member states such as mine (the UK), I must add — moved away from the view that regulation is a necessary part of the enlightened European model towards one that understands it solely as a burden on business and progress.

Just look at the last 12 months: we have seen a progressive recycling package binned, much needed air pollution regulation shelved and moves to regulate dangerous pesticides kicked into the long grass. While some of this has been linked to pressure from the TTIP negotiations, much would arguably have happened regardless.

I think they have a point. The way Europe regulates is changing, and not necessarily for the better. TTIP is far from being the only game in town. We as campaigners have done a terrible job of highlighting and explaining this in our public communications and it is something we need to reflect, and act on.

There is one area I would take issue with De Ville and Siles-Brugge: their conclusion that the EU is unlikely to compromise on the headline issues. I do not share their confidence that no red-lines will be crossed. If this is truly to be an ‘ambitious’ deal, compromises will have to be made by both the EU and US. Sacred cows will have to be sacrificed, so to speak.

As to whether I am wasting everyone’s time? I don’t think so, at least not yet. But I am pleased to have been cajoled into asking myself the question.

‘TTIP: The Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ can be purchased here.

Sam is the Trade Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarcLowe

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[1] Regardless of whether TTIP is concluded or not, I predict a steep rise in the publication of wordy books about contentious bilateral trade agreements. “Jobs, growth, prosperity” … for academics.

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