Massive protest rocks Germany in advance of U.S.-EU trade talks
by Bill Waren, senior trade analyst
On Saturday April 23, tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets and public squares of Hannover, Germany to protest the environmentally destructive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union. Estimates of the size of the crowd ranged from 25,000 to 90,000. The massive rally was scheduled the day before Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover in a desperate attempt to sell the TTIP deal and two days before the U.S. and the EU opened weeklong TTIP negotiations in New York City.
The German public is outraged that a TTIP agreement that would ramp up U.S. exports to Europe of climate destroying fossil fuel exports[i] and lower alleged regulatory “barriers” to transatlantic trade and investment — such as those related to family farming[ii], food safety[iii], genetically-engineered products[iv] and toxic chemicals[v], among many others.
Ordinary Germans are also angered by an investment chapter in TTIP that would allow giant multinational firms to sue governments for millions or billions in money damages if climate, environmental or public health regulations interfere with expected future profits. This would discourage government action, for just a few examples, restricting oil and gas drilling, imposing pollution controls, or limiting the use of hydraulic fracturing.
As an example of the harm that such investor suit provisions can cause, TransCanada has sued the U.S. under the North American Free Trade Agreement for $15 billion for stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As a new report documents, the TTIP and another looming trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership would more than double the number of fossil fuel corporations that could follow TransCanada’s lead and use corporate dominated investment arbitration tribunals as a backdoor way of challenging U.S. policies that keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The TTIP can also be effectively enforced in government to government litigation before trade tribunals, empowered to impose retaliatory trade sanctions like higher tariffs on the exports or loss of intellectual property rights.
To top it off, the TTIP will establish institutions and procedures to quash environmental initiatives before they can even be promulgated. Regulatory review chapters in the TTIP would encourage business-friendly, cost-benefit analysis that would hamstring environmental or other public interest regulations. For example, insecticide safety standards would be lowered if the undervalued “benefit” of protecting the bees is outweighed by the “cost” to corporate profits.[i]
Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and former chief economist at the World Bank and past chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, summed up the situation in an opinion piece in the distinguished German newspaper, Süddeutsche_Zeitung, shortly before the Obama-Merkel meeting in Hannover:
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama [ii] …were instrumental in securing the Paris Agreement on climate change. Yet in Hannover they are poised to undermine their joint climate legacy by pushing forward the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Together with its sibling, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), TTIP has the potential to undercut urgently needed action on climate that the Paris agreement requires.”[iii]
[i] firstname.lastname@example.org; 202.222.0746.
[ii] The TTIP would stimulate a boom in oil, coal, and liquefied natural gas exports from the US to Europe, thus further fueling climate change. The TTIP would trump the recently-concluded Paris accord on climate change. It can be effectively enforced by international tribunals with authority to levy retaliatory trade sanctions or unlimited awards of money damages whereas multilateral environmental and climate agreements like the Paris accord are mere moral obligations. A leaked draft negotiating text for the E.U. on energy issues was published online. An analysis of the leaked text shows that the draft European proposal for TTIP energy provisions would “expand fossil fuel exports from the U.S. to the EU.”
[iii] Friends of the Earth, TTIP bad for agriculture, health and the environment says U.S. and EU civil society, July 10, 2014: http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2014-07-ttip-bad-for-agriculture-health-and-the-environment#sthash.8kbLbhGh.dpuf
[iv] Industry lobbyists have called for TTIP provisions that would make it much easier to challenge safeguards related to food safety and animal health. European firms are seeking to relax U.S. regulatory safeguards related to mad cow disease. But U.S. agri-business has even more ambitious plans to lower food safety standards in Europe, seeking to deregulate EU restrictions on imports of beef treated with growth hormones, chicken washed in chlorine and meat produced with growth stimulants, among others.
[v] TTIP could open the door for U.S. exports of genetically engineered goods into Europe, where market access is currently restricted — or at least labeling is required — because of safety concerns. This could threaten ecosystems, public health and the livelihoods of small farmers, among other adverse consequences.
[vi] TTIP poses risks to the EU’s health-protective approach to chemical regulation, called REACH. If the American Chemistry Council gets its way, the TTIP process could “harmonize down” European chemical regulations so that they approach low federal standards in the U.S., namely the failed Toxic Substances Control Act. In coming years, this could also prevent comprehensive reform of federal chemicals regulation, resulting in weaker rules for chemicals associated with breast cancer, autism and infertility. More immediately, it would undercut more effective toxic chemical regulation currently on the books in California and other states.
[vii] Bill Waren, Assessment: Trade deal attack on pollinator protection, Friends of the Earth, 10/21/2015, http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/877/58/2/6702/Assessment.Trade_deal_attack_on_pollinator_protection.pdf.
[viii] The Paris agreement acknowledges the urgent need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate change, but the greenhouse gas pollution-cutting pledges of signatory countries fall critically short of meeting this critical target. The U.S. has played a major role in the agreement’s inadequacy. It has refused to do its fair share and take responsibility for the country’s historical contribution to today’s global climate emergency. Instead, the U.S. has unjustly shifted this burden to the developing countries in the Global South and has failed to provide its fair share of financial support to enable developing countries to take meaningful climate action. To fight the climate crisis, the U.S. must keep fossil fuels in the ground, undertake a clean energy revolution, and provide the Global South with the financial and technological assistance demanded by science, equity, and justice. http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2016-04-obama-administration-urged-to-do-fair-share-to-fight-climate-crisis#sthash.tZH3GiXK.dpuf.
[ix] Joseph E. Stiglitz, University Professor, Columbia University, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979), former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and a former chairman of the (US president’s) Council of Economic Advisers, TTIP and Climate Change: A Tale of Two Cities from Paris to Hannover, Süddeutsche_Zeitung, 23. April 2016, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/exterior-view-ttip-and-climate-change-a-tale-of-two-cities-from-paris-to-hannover-1.2963133.