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EU and US trade deal talks: yet another attack on sovereignty?

News item

Tuesday 4 Mar 2014

First published 3 December 2013

The EU and US are holding two more rounds of trade negotiations during November and December. The first round took place in November 11-15 and covered investment, energy sector trade, and regulatory issues. In December officials will meet in Washington DC.

On the face of it a trade and investment agreement between the world’s biggest economic powers should be a contribution to much needed economic growth and new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.   But there are growing concerns that any deal between the EU and the US will involve compromising on European environmental and food safety standards, and people are waking up to the fact that they have not been consulted, and are asking why do we need this deal?

An EU- US Free Trade Agreement (TTIP) could bring annual benefits of €119 billion to the EU’s  member states, including Ireland. However, several aspects need to be examined carefully before talks conclude,  asking who will benefit and at what cost. For instance, can we ensure that it does not contain provisions that would compromise our citizen’s health, personal data and the environment.

If the TTIP deal goes through without the appropriate safeguards for food safety, as some reports have highlighted, we could see GM crops such as corn, soy, pork, chlorinated chicken and hormone meat coming onto the European market. These may pose serious public health and environmental risks.

The European Commission is currently tackling the issue of GM crops with regard to ending the deadlock over proposals to allow national GM bans.  Countries such as the UK, Spain and Sweden are pro-GM and it is important that smaller countries such as Ireland are not forced into authorising GM.

Of equal concern regarding the TTIP is the supposed lobbying by corporations to weaken recent financial reforms and labour rights. It is of utmost importance that existing EU standards for consumer protection and personal data be safeguarded in the negotiations and the EU should not sacrifice these fundamental rights to free trade.  Most worrying of all is that the deal could involve a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement.  This would allow big corporations to sue governments through closed arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which would by-pass domestic courts and parliaments.

As the only Irish full member in the Parliament’s Environmental, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, I will be following this issue closely and will wholly support the concerns of Irish environmentalists, NGOs and citizens.