This Trade Deal Could Be Bad News for Anyone Who Lives in Europe and Likes Food

Since 2011, the European Union has been negotiating a free-trade deal with the US. It’s called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and could spell the collapse of certain European food safety regulations.

Jul 24 2015, 10:00am

Foto von Steve Harwood via Flickr

Since 2011, the European Union has been in the drawn out process of negotiating a free-trade deal with the United States. It's called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the latest round of secret talks took place in Brussels earlier this month.

Despite the lack of news coverage from many (but not all) media outlets, TTIP is a revolutionary agreement that could allow free-trade between Europe and America.

Great, free-trade! You may think. No more $29.74 import charges on $5 eBay jean shorts!

But hold your cut price garment-related glee for a moment. Despite my hatred of schlepping to the arse-end of nowhere between 9 and 9.39 AM on a Wednesday to pay my customs charge, I am against TTIP. I am against it with every fibre of my body.

READ MORE: A Free-Trade Deal Is Threatening the Future of Europe's Food

TTIP is going to create free-trade by breaking down tariff barriers (customs charges) and non-tariff barriers, which is anything other than price that might give European companies an advantage over American, or vice versa.

For example, if you have a pesky regulation in Europe banning a dangerous pesticide like atrazine which—because it's legal in the US—coats most of American sugar and corn crops, the law says they can't sell that shit over here. But that is a non-tariff barrier.

For TTIP to work, Europe and the US need to harmonise their food safety regulations. Food standards tend to be much stricter in Europe (82 pesticides are used in the US that are banned or restricted here) and while Americans are great, they eat some nasty shit. I don't mean pit-beef Sloppy Joes or root beer-flavoured Twinkies or whatever they're queuing three hours for in London now, either. I'm talking about things like growth hormones injected into cows to get more meat, chemicals that are a cancer risk, but allow you to store apples for longer, weed killers that disrupt human hormones, and the genetically modified organisms in 70 percent of all US processed foods.

Of course, the US could increase its safety and environmental legislation to match European standards, but activists don't think this is going to happen.

"It's clear from leaked negotiation texts that boosting trade and profit is taking precedence over vital food, animal, and plant regulations," says Vicki Hird, Director of Policy and Campaigns at London-based human rights charity War on Want. "If TTIP goes ahead, our food safety standards will be trashed."

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), is another TTIP clause that's getting people worried. The ISDS is a secret court that allows businesses to sue governments if they think their policies have led to loss of profits. Because, y'know, international corporations just don't have enough power under the current legal system.

It's clear from leaked negotiation texts that boosting trade and profit is taking precedence over vital food, animal, and plant regulations.

Before you start thinking that it can't possibly be all that bad, consider the events of January 1st, 1994. Fashion is eerily similar to what you're wearing now, people dog on Courtney Love but don't call her a murderer yet, and no one has ever said the word "landline." The US has just signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a free-trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

NAFTA is basically a proto-TTIP, and 20 years on we can see what kind of impact it has had. Focusing on Mexico (sorry, Canada), before NAFTA, the country had a lot of farmers growing a lot of corn. Most of this was organic and Mexico had a huge variety of different strains suited to grow in different conditions.

The US, in comparison, industrially produced a small number of different strains, largely genetically modified. The American corn industry is heavily subsidised by the US government (high-fructose corn syrup being so vital to American culture) and is as cheap as value tortilla chips. This meant that as soon as NAFTA was introduced, American corn flooded the Mexican market. Prices plummeted and millions of Mexican farmers went bust.

Weirdly, despite the influx of cheap corn after NAFTA, tortilla prices in Mexico actually rose dramatically. This, combined with the mass unemployment of agricultural workers and falling wages, particularly for poor people, led to near starvation for many Mexicans in what was dubbed the "tortilla crisis."

And it's not like American farmers were laughing at their schmuck neighbours all the way to the bank—the 20 years since NAFTA was introduced has seen the devastation of many small farms in the US. The winners were the multinational corporations, who took advantage of the favourable terms of the agreement to move intensive production of meat to cheaper, Mexican-based factory farms.

READ MORE: The US Is the World's Largest Producer of Corn, So Why Are We Importing More?

The day NAFTA was signed, as a direct response to the free-trade deal, a group of indigenous farmers-cum-revolutionaries marched on San Cristobal in Chiapas and declared war on the Mexican government. Food was a driving force behind this protest. As Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos pointed out back in 1994, the "free-trade agreement, for Indians is a death sentence. The entry into force of the Treaty represents the beginning of an international slaughter."

The Zapatista rebels' may not have held as many economic qualifications as the TTIP negotiators thrashing it out in Brussels, but it seems they were pretty much bang on the money about the impacts of NAFTA for Mexico. And, as far as I'm aware, there aren't any guerrilla Cornish potato farmers ready to declare war on the British government the day TTIP comes into force.

So, if you live in Europe and like food, I'd say you might have reason to be worried.