By Neil Thompson
The Friedrich-Ebert Foundation invited two opposing speakers to debate the merits of TTIP. An important point to come out of the argument was both agreed it should not be set in stone once signed. It is meant to be a living document, subject to a regulatory council, something loosely akin to the US constitution and it’s Supreme Court. Businesses may not be able to shelter indefinitely behind Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS) tribunals as some now fear; campaigns against them will simply switch forums.
Speaking in favor of the agreement was international trade expert Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner, representing the concerns of the Federation of German Industries of which she is an executive board member. Dr. Michael Shank, associate director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington D.C., was the sceptic of the evening. The panel was ably moderated by Professor Daniel Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University.
Dr. Mildner is an experienced speaker on the TTIP issue and offered a calm and measured defense of her position in favor of the pact. In her speech, although she approved of the EU Commission’s public consultations on the ISDS issue, she defended her organization’s support for the measure robustly. Controversially she also added that there had to be limits to transparency about the negotiations; that the negotiators, including business representatives, needed space to work in private or compromise became impossible.
To an unconvinced audience member who raised the common fear that signing TTIP would mean allowing in imports of beef containing artificial hormones or genetically modified organisms, she said the Commission would never sign such an agreement pointing out that the EU had lost repeated cases in the WTO over the beef issue, but although it had paid compensation, EU markets were still closed to hormone-treated beef imports. The regulatory aspect of TTIP would be on-going over time as it was such a difficult issue; a living document in fact.
Of the two speakers Dr. Shank had the easier time of the discussion. He had to field noticeably fewer questions from the audience, who seemed to mainly agree with his list of problems about the proposed terms of the agreement. Nevertheless he made some telling points about bias in the negotiating process; 90 percent of TTIP working groups included industry members, who met with negotiators three times as often as their civil society counterparts. His take on TTIP was that the EU’s desire for growth and jobs after its weak recovery from the Eurozone crisis was greater than American industry’s preparedness to bargain about raising its labor, product and environmental standards. TTIP would not therefore “impose progressive regulations on the US”.
The feelings of the audience must have been pretty clear to Professor Hamilton by the end of the evening. Of the ten questions he allowed the audience, eight were directed to Dr. Mildner and were hostile to TTIP. Only two questions were addressed to Dr. Shank and both supported his skeptical views, allowing him to expound further. Professor Hamilton touched on the difficulties the pro-agreement side faced in convincing the transatlantic public with Dr. Mildner, when he argued that the pro-TTIP side had not tried hard enough to find positive stories from people who stood to gain from an agreement. Dr. Mildner replied that it was hard to offer personalized examples of the general benefits of raising technical standards.
The biggest surprise of the evening however, was perhaps when Dr. Shank told Dr. Mildner that he hoped she was right that TTIP would be a living document. That way he argued, civil society would be able impose progressive regulations such as the carbon tax on companies trying to hide behind ISDS tribunals. The struggle between civil society groups and big business looks set to continue even if the agreement is ever signed.
This report was written by Atlantic-community.org editor Neil Thompson.