Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue
After years of tensions, a new cooperation agenda between the EU and the U.S. is welcomed by the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of over 75 leading European and U.S.-based organisations representing the consumer interest.
During the TTIP negotiations, TACD called for voluntary regulatory cooperation between the EU and the U.S., rather than mandatory ‘regulatory convergence’, ‘harmonization’, or ‘mutual recognition’ through a “trade” agreement. Such voluntary cooperation can be beneficial for consumers, as long as it raises consumer protections, protects consumer rights, and does not cap or exert downwards pressure on consumer protection, current or future.
The EU and the U.S. need to get this new cooperation agenda right to help their people face the new challenges of this critical time. The agenda should help consumers address the impact of climate change and address their concerns related to public health, technology, and market-place fairness.
TACD has developed four recommendations to make sure that this new cooperation agenda will deliver to consumers:
- The overall process should be transparent and involve public interest groups in a meaningful way.
- The cooperation on health should seek to ensure access to safe and affordable medicines for all.
- The cooperation on sustainability should explore how the green transition will include consumer protections and incentives, notably by cooperating on sustainable finance. 4
- The joint technology competition dialogue and various Trade and Technology Council (TTC) working groups should pave the way towards a rights-respecting digital environment and fairer and safer markets for consumers.
Most importantly, the cooperation agenda must remain a platform to inform and exchange good practices, not a tool to influence each other’s legislative processes or deter each other from improving protections.
#1 Be transparent and provide meaningful engagement opportunities for public interest groups
The EU and the U.S. must not repeat the mistakes from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations era. Cooperation dialogues, just like trade talks, must be transparent and subject to public scrutiny. Agendas of meetings and progress reports should be published along with the list of participants. This information should be easily accessible to the public.
EU and U.S. public interest groups should be regularly consulted as well as briefed about the progress of the cooperation. The EU and the U.S. should jointly seek views, insights, and experiences from public interest groups.
The EU has created the Futurium, which provides an interactive platform for civil society engagement. This is positive but it only relates to the TTC, not the rest of the cooperation agenda, such as the dialogue on competition or the cooperation platform on agriculture. Moreover, it does not provide access to the necessary information civil society will need to scrutinize the progress of the cooperation agenda. The EU and the U.S. should therefore explore the possibility of creating a joint platform addressing both transparency and meaningful engagement. This platform should cover all the cooperation dialogues and channels established, including on health, sustainability, competition, agriculture, digital, and potentially consumer issues.
In addition to this joint transparency and engagement platform, the EU and the U.S. should improve how they individually involve public interest groups in this new cooperation agenda. Now that the mandate of the Free Trade Agreement expert group created during the TTIP negotiations has ended on the EU side, the European Commission should create a new expert group that would look at cooperation discussions, such as the EU-U.S. agenda, and trade negotiations. This would enable a range of civil society organisations to provide input to the different dialogues created under the cooperation agenda in a more substantive and proactive manner than the limited oral input provided during the civil society dialogues organized by DG Trade.
On the U.S. side, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the Trade Representative should include consumer representatives on their advisory committees which, with limited exceptions, represent businesses and industry associations to the exclusion of civil society.
The EU and U.S. should also ensure a certain degree of consistency and coherence between the different sectoral dialogues. The cooperation agenda is very broad and could lead to overlap between the different dialogues that will be created. This is, for example, the case of the Joint Technology Competition Dialogue and the TTC working group on data governance and platforms. Therefore, as in the TTC, there should be principals tasked with overseeing the management of the cooperation agenda.
# 2 Ensure access to affordable medicines for all
The EU and the U.S. must lead the way to scale up global production and availability of COVID-19 medicines and other health technologies. The TTC could contribute to addressing these issues. As one concrete example, working group 10 on global trade challenges must address the world’s biggest trade challenge: fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and providing timely access to vaccines and other COVID19 health technologies. This working group should resolve the conflict between the EU and U.S. positions on a temporary, emergency waiver of certain WTO TRIPS rules. The U.S. and EU should also coordinate with the WHO in supporting states to increase vaccine production capability. This is essential to ending the pandemic.
Beyond COVID-19, cooperation in the area of pharmaceuticals should aim at improving consumer access to safe, effective, and affordable medicines. The TTC’s working group 3 on supply chains should:
- Seek to increase transparency along the drug supply chain, as this will help better assess the risk of shortages and allow for adoption of preventative measures.
- Explore ways to ensure the continuity of trade flows, notably in times of crisis like a pandemic.
- Promote the diversification of production by strengthening cooperation on Good Manufacturing Practices inspections with third countries.
- Support alternative ways of funding drug research and development that contribute to increased availability and affordability of medicines.
# 3 Be ambitious on sustainability
Consumers on both sides of the Atlantic want to consume more sustainably. This requires setting standards and regulations that align with those goals. It is important that greening consumption through sustainable products rules, eco-design requirements, and new labels as well as the European regulation for GMOs (including new genetic engineering methods) is not seen as a barrier to trade. Cooperation on sustainable finance initiatives could help consumers steer their investments towards sustainable economic activities.
The EU and the U.S. could cooperate on key issues to facilitate the green transition for consumers:
- Cooperation to better inform consumers about green financial products: The EU and the U.S. could exchange best practices on sustainable finance initiatives, such as taxonomies, and better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures or ecolabels for financial services products. ESG disclosures and labelling must be accurate and based on rigorous standards developed through regulation and designed to communicate clearly to consumers to avoid “greenwashing” and deceptive messaging.
- Cooperation on electric cars: The EU and the U.S. could exchange best practices for common payment standards at charging stations. They could also exchange information about investments and legislation promoting clean cars. The goal should be to learn from each other in order to make electric cars more affordable for consumers.
- Cooperation on the right to repair for consumers. EU and U.S. consumers need a comprehensive right to repair based on improving product design, consumer information, repair services, and guarantee rights. The EU and the U.S. could exchange information and best practices related to the right to repair.
- Cooperation on renovation of buildings: The U.S. and the EU are both involved in the improvement of the energy efficiency of their building stock, including housing. They could exchange best practices and information on this matter.
- Cooperation on food: The U.S. and the E.U. should cooperate to support sustainable practices in food production to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and limit additives and chemicals that pose health and environmental risks.
To continue reading, please download a PDF of the recommendations.