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A few weeks ago IATP received a leaked draft proposal for the chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS, or food and plant safety) measures in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), being negotiated between the U.S. and EU. Steve Suppan has been tracking food safety issues in trade for decades, and quickly wrote an analysis outlining the ways this proposal could weaken existing standards and make it harder to implement new food safety rules. Like most such drafts, it was partial information, a snapshot of what the negotiators (in this case, probably EU negotiators) hoped to table at the trade talks.

Steve noted that there are fundamental contradictions inherent in mandating “least trade restrictive” norms for SPS regulations that otherwise would seek to optimize public health. The chapter indicates negotiators continue to subordinate SPS regulations to the object of maximizing trade. The text supports the U.S. approach to not require port of entry food inspections and testing, meaning food contamination outbreaks will be harder to trace to their origin, and liability harder to assess—a win for U.S. meat and food companies that could jeopardize food safety for consumers. “While many key details regarding things like GMOs are still hidden,” he said, “it’s clear public health is losing out to corporate interests in a big way.”

Surprisingly, EC spokesman Isaac Valero Ladrón responded to Steve’s analysis in an article on Law360, claiming that he got it wrong. “There is no contradiction between a commitment to seek ‘least trade restrictive measures’ and the enforcement of high safety standards,” he said, and anyway there is no reason to worry since the proposals don’t go beyond what’s already been decided at the World Trade Organization.

This kind of email exchange is still a far cry from an informed public debate, but we saw it as an opening to consult with a few partners. We issued a short joint reply to EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, with Friends of the Earth Europe and Compassion in World Farming, which clarified, but didn’t contradict, our earlier analysis. In an article in covering the new analysis, Mute Schimpf from Friends of the Earth Europe stated, ''The concerns of European citizens that the free trade agreement with the USA would undermine public safeguards were scoffed at by the Commissioner in charge of the negotiations. Now leaked documents show that the public has every right to be concerned.”

EU officials have asserted recently that the TTIP talks are the most transparent trade talks ever (something the EU Ombudsman is contesting). It’s a little hard to figure out how they can say that. Three separate drafts of the proposed Free Trade Areas of the Americas, including brackets indicating areas of disagreement, are still posted online, as are drafts of the ongoing WTO talks. If we had negotiating texts for TTIP, we would know exactly what’s on the table, and engage in a public dialogue. Until then, we’ll continue to piece together what we can from bits of text and exchanges like this one.  

Read IATP's joint reply to Karel De Gucht, EU Commissioner for Trade.

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