The answer is: Lots!
With all of the news and comment devoted to what’s happening in Washington we may tend to forget that today, October 16, is also World Food Day. We probably didn’t forget to eat though….
Though World Food Day is truly global in reach, one prism through which to view the what’s happening on the global sphere is to focus on at the second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the all-important trade negotiations between the EU and the US. Actually the negotiators are on hold in Brussels – the US negotiators are stalled by the furlough of government employees.
While the Deciders cool their heels and gird their loins it gives armchair observers a chance to catch up on what’s happening across The Pond.
The intent of TTIP, nee TAFTA, talks is to fashion a trade agreement that removes trade barriers that inhibit trade between the EU and the US. The trade relationship between the US and the US is by far the biggest in the world, together accounting for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade. As such, EU and US investments are the real driver of the transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. An estimated third of the trade across the Atlantic consists of intra-company transfers.
Topping the agenda for TTIP talks is the issue of differences in technical regulations, standards and procedures. Commissioner Karel De Gucht, member of the EC in charge of trade, outlines the agenda for the TTIP negotiations in a talk presented October 10 at the annual Aspen Institute Conference in Prague; the theme of the Aspen Institute conference was “Overcoming barriers to growth: The full video is online http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I082387.
The term “regulatory convergence” as used by TTIP observers and participants refers to a range of considerations that critics maintain would lower or remove “the rules and standards that govern what kind of food is being produced and how.” Critics see “regulatory convergence” as a pell-mell descent to the lower common denominator – a potential outright threat to our food supply and safety.
For their part the agribusiness industry has “been very vocal about the special objectives.” Biotech companies want the EU to relax the restrictions on on-authorized GM crop imports, speed up GM authorizations, weaken safety tests for GM crops, and replace mandatory labeling of GM food and feed with voluntary rules.”
This and other goals supported by the agribusiness block are anathema to many critics, academics, environmentalists, and a host of public interest groups. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) at the University of Minnesota and Friends of the Earth Europe have published a major paper outlining those organizations’ severe objections to the overt goal of U.S. agribusiness interests. An excerpt from the conclusions gives the flavor of the report:
Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP call on the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU’s member states and the US government to prioritise the interests of people and the environment. To this end they should not pursue transatlantic trade negotiations that compromise democracy, safety, or environmental well-being.
Full text of the position paper, “EU-US trade deal: A bumper crop for ‘big food’? is available at (http://www.iatp.org/documents/eu-us-trade-deal-a-bumper-crop-for-big-food)
The negotiators in Brussels will soon be back at the table. The forces with an ax to grind will be close at hand. The reason: Because the TTIP talks do make a difference. The talks will not garner much media coverage. Nor will the impact be dramatic or immediate. The ramifications can be truly catastrophic for those of us who naively assume that the food we eat is safe.
Keeping informed about what’s happening at TTIP — the players, the forces, the issues and potential impact – may require some armchair surfing. There’s no better starting point than IATP (www.iatp.org) and no clearer goal than that enunciated by Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP who “call for a real trade deal that builds a better future for people and the planet through supporting local food economics agro-ecological farming and vibrant rural communities.”
Such a deal, the partnering organizations say, should aim at the following:
- Building new economies and improving lives
- Improving life for future generations
- Promoting trading conditions in favour of people and environment
- Bringing transparency and accountability
John Parker, IATP intern, is a bit more blunt when he writes, “We need to begin the work of reclaiming authentic participation in democratic decision-making. Otherwise we will continue to watch agribusiness steal the game and tell us all to shut up” (http://civileats.com/2013/10/09/food-democracy-rule-of-the-people-or-corporations/)