Public Well-Being Must Be 'Primary Measurement' Of US-EU Trade Agreement

from the does-it-have-to-be-said? dept

Now that the US and EU have officially announced the start of talks on a new bilateral free trade agreement — sorry, a “trade and investment partnership” — groups in both regions are trying to work out what this will mean for them and their constituents. Arguably the most important constituency of all is the public, and yet it is also the one that until now has been systematically shut out of previous negotiations for things like ACTA or TPP. One representative of that huge group — though not, obviously, the only one — is the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), which describes itself as follows:

a forum of US and EU consumer organisations which develops and agrees on joint consumer policy recommendations to the US government and European Union to promote the consumer interest in EU and US policy making.

With commendable speed, it has submitted an open letter on the proposed agreement, addressed to Ron Kirk and Karel de Gucht, who are leading their respective delegations (pdf). Early on, it states the TACD’s basic position:

We believe that advancement of consumer well-being must be the primary measurement of whether such a trade pact should be adopted or not. We are very sceptical that a trade partnership built around regulatory convergence will serve consumer interests, and we will vigorously oppose a deal that dismantles existing EU and US consumer protection.

The concern here is that the trade pact will have the effect of levelling consumer protection downwards, to the lower of the two standards found in the US and EU. That might be convenient for industries looking to cut costs and boost profits, but as TACD points out, consumer interests are unlikely to be served. It then goes on to address several particular areas of concern, including copyright and patents:

Provisions on intellectual property (IP) rights should ensure governments may enact robust limitations and exceptions to rights, and limitations on remedies. IP enforcement should be proportionate and respect the right to a judicial remedy. In some areas, mandatory minimum exceptions should be addressed, such as robust cross-border exceptions for disabilities or distance education. Access to medical technologies and knowledge should not be undermined.

It also has strong views on the increasingly-problematic area of investor-state disputes:

Investors should not be empowered to sue governments to enforce the agreement in secretive private tribunals, and to skirt the well-functioning domestic court systems and robust property rights protections in the United States and European Union. Experience elsewhere shows how powerful interests from tobacco companies to corporate polluters have used investor-state dispute resolution provisions to challenge and undermine consumer and environmental protections. Investors must not be empowered to sue governments directly for compensation before foreign investor tribunals over regulatory policy (including “indirect” expropriation), contract disputes, nor guarantee a Minimum Standard of Treatment for foreign investors.

It concludes by raising the key issue mentioned at the start of this post: the fact that the public has been comprehensively excluded from previous trade negotiations, even though the latter are supposedly conducted in its name.

With talks now slated for a fully-fledged Transatlantic trade agreement, it is vital that governmental negotiators reform their engagement with consumer organisations and civil society. We must have a fully open process. Citizens in Europe and the United States will not accept a closed, secret process, with the results revealed only when negotiations are concluded for an up or down vote.

Nothing is more important to an open process than publication of negotiating texts as they are developed.

That last point is important. Once texts have been discussed during the negotiations, there is no reason not to publish them: after all, there are no “secrets” that might be revealed to the other side — the usual excuse for not allowing the public to see texts as negotiations are being conducted. Industry insiders already have access, so the only people that would be kept in the dark by not publishing them are the 800 million citizens of the US and EU.

Just as the advancement of consumer well-being should be the “primary measurement” of whether the trade agreement should be signed or not, so the public must be recognized as the primary stakeholder that has a right to see all texts once they have been discussed. If they don’t, then those negotiations simply forfeit any claim to real legitimacy in a world where basic transparency can be achieved instantly, and for almost zero cost, by publishing materials on the Web.

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Comments on “Public Well-Being Must Be 'Primary Measurement' Of US-EU Trade Agreement”

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DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yep. That’s about right.

You know, back in the day, it was noticed that the countries that made a big deal of using labels like “People’s” and “Democratic” and “Republic” were not for the people, were dictatorships, and were police states.

How long before those words are mere euphemisms in the US? Calling corporations People and then giving them the benefits, but none of the responsibilities of people is a very good start.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The real reason for why we need these agreements is to affirm a mutual understanding of which traditional values are important to protect. It is indisputable that the times around year 1929 holds a special place in our mutual hearts and anyone trying to cast doubt on the true glory of the time is threatening our basic rights and must take the consequences for their despicable actions.
Also, it is important to affirm that we are defenders of human rights. Human rights include the right to avoid criticism and an oath to never threaten our way of getting elected. It is eseential that we stand behind these values in a time where they can so easily be forgotten with anarchists of the internet taking stances.
To protect our rights we have made an agreement with several companies and interests for some horsetrading. In the end we must protect this agreement vehemently against the undemocratic consumer protection initiatives since they are threatening our rights. Therefore it is blasphemy to call for “transparency” other than a public discussion after the agreement has been passed politically!

Anonymous Coward says:

so, how long before the brown envelopes start flying around, then? anyone actually think that this is anything other than another official ‘smoke screen’? the lobbyists, entertainment industries bought and paid for politicians etc will be out in force. de Gucht in particular will chomping at the bit in the EU and, no doubt, so will Ron Kirk in the US. i mean, how dare anyone, let alone an official organisation have the the public’s interests at the fore? they all deserve to be sacked for their gall!
unfortunately, i doubt if it will make any difference at all to the TPP meetings or in fact to the vote on the banning of pornography on all media (must include the internet) today in the EU. when/if that vote passes (remember they EU politicians have had the email complaints from constituents filtered into spam boxes! shows the lack of respect for the people and the power, yet again, of these that want something and the lengths they will go to!) it will immediately be stretched to include ALL sites that the entertainment industries want closed down, using whatever ‘evidence’ they can invent and lie about to back up what they want! the abuse that will take place because there is no punishment for false take downs is going to be immense! the internet will not be the same and censorship, instigated by the USA government via the USA entertainment industries, will be rife. China, Iran, N.Korea etc will end up being less censored than the so-called democracies!!

ByteMaster (profile) says:


Don’t forget that North America also includes Canada, and right now two things are being sneaked through:

1. CETA – includes various IPR proposals that are not in the publics best interest: pharma patent term extension (remember the ratcheting-mechanism? Up up up and never down)

2. ACTA – recently a Bill C-56 was introduced in the Canadian rubber-stamp-iament that paves the way for the ratification of ACTA. Yes, it is March 2013, and Yes, the US is demanding that Canada ratifies ACTA.

special-interesting (profile) says:

I don’t think that the public or the average commercial enterprise benefits from this agreement. There is no agreement that can benefit the public at large if it is secret from such. I (dose anyone?) do not believe that current legislators will act benevolently on my behalf.

Consumer well being? Who asked me? (a typical consumer) Furthermore. I have witnessed the total denial of consumer (average public) opinion being ignored by Washington (remember ACTA anyone?) so where is my opinion in all of that anyway? (I like the term ‘smoke screen’)

This is a classic cigarette augment! (An argument that you will like and think is cool that which is death for you.)

The American public has been excluded from… public discourse. It is a shame.

Thanks for the good commentary. (everyone)

It should be said that corporate well being is dependent on the well being of the consumer. A strong consumer base gives credence to great corporate success.

As a note to history it is vital that we, as a public, have the tools to pay attention to historical trends such as economic protectionism, and the wars it generates.

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