FTA benefits

TTIP – Making the world a better place?

TTIP protests focus on petty differences rather than shared values. Why we need to reflect on our double standards and learn to negotiate more openly.

bitte einfügen
bitte einfügen

In my last post, I tried to shift the view on free trade agreements (FTAs) from a mere commercial perspective to a more humanitarian angle, highlighting geopolitical benefits. My conclusion was that FTAs help to interlink global societies more closely, which in turn makes them more resistant to military conflicts.

But this brings up the next question: If FTAs are something like a “no-war” guarantee, why don’t we just jump at every chance and sign as many of them as possible?

Well, it seems other considerations dominate our everyday thoughts. Fortunately, nobody expects military confrontation between Europe and the US these days and consequently, considerations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) center on potential impacts on all our regular, everyday lives – on both sides of the partnership. And such thoughts then manifest in fears about chlorinated chickens on European supermarket shelves on the one side, and panic about bacteria-infested chickens in the US on the other.

Finding common grounds

But if we take a step back to actually identify the underlying interests, motivations, and concerns that drive people on both sides of the Atlantic to form their opinions on TTIP, we can find many overlaps:

  • Both sides care a lot about health and quality standards for food and pharmaceuticals.
  • Environmental protection is a matter of great concern. Some member states of the EU and US states – such as California – even seem to compete in a race to become “the greenest”.
  • Individual rights and personal safety are high priorities for both the US and European countries. Both sides also place strong trust in their respective legislation and judicial systems in place.
  • And both Europe and the US believe in the need for education and awareness as well as strong educational systems to support it.

These are actually very similar mindsets and common values. However, despite sharing the original value, the differences between the systems in place on either side could hardly be any greater. Take education for example: commercial aspects are highly important in this area for the US, with quality driven by funding in line with demand and supply. Europeans on the other hand, consider education a free commodity as part of a publicly available system, with quality improvements benefiting all.

Avoiding double standards

Expectations around TTIP, and any other trade agreement, follow quite similar principles: TTIP should help protect citizens, consumers, and the environment alike, and at the same time strengthen the economy.

But as much as these principles align on both sides, when I think of all the differences about the details and latest protests against TTIP, I’m slowly but surely losing confidence in us overcoming these hurdles anytime soon. It seems to be a very long, quite winding, and rather stony road full of compromises.

While compromises within limits constitute an important part of all agreements and relationships, we all need to be careful not to apply double standards. Shouldn’t we all strive to deliver what we expect from others?

In the midst of current TTIP negotiations, there are the most interesting double standards to be found by various negotiating partners. Let’s take an example from Germany – one of the markets outside my home turf Switzerland that I strongly engage with:

This is no isolated case, of course, and all of us should take a long, good look at ourselves and align our expectations.

Focusing on what’s truly important

Being an eternal optimist, I am not quite ready to give up on the idea of a transatlantic trade zone. Therefore, I’d like to highlight the potential benefits and opportunities one more time. And I’m not even talking about the creation of new jobs, open markets, and possible peacekeeping effects.

Imagine the EU and the US forming the largest trade zone in the world and as such providing coordinated development aid on a global level, and support and drive the fight against:

  • Child labor and child poverty
  • Human trafficking
  • Economic and ecological exploitation of developing countries
  • Corruption

If we are serious about making the world a better place, we should take advantage of the excellent opportunity that TTIP presents. The impact and economical power of a new transatlantic trade zone with altogether over 800 million consumers could really make a difference.

Playing with open cards: more transparency

All we need to do is synchronize our measures. Imagine 800 million consumers aligned and synchronized in their mission to address urgent humanitarian issues on a global level. I am very much in favor of such an outcome of TTIP. To get there, we just need to get over our fears that some impacts of TTIP may or may not affect the comfort and/or current routines of our daily lives.

A good point to start would be to offer the public more transparency over the ongoing negotiation process. To truly get people onboard, we probably need more than a few dedicated reading rooms for just a small circle of authorized persons.

Also, it will be more than interesting to see how the secretly negotiated TPP (the recently finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement) will make its way through twelve national parliaments for ratification before it can take effect. And I am curious to see if there’s something we can learn from it.
In my upcoming post, I plan to analyze the historical impacts of major trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I guess there is a fair chance that this might change my view on TTIP again – let’s see.