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Is TTIP really worth it?

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Jens Thurau
May 2, 2016

For Europeans, the list of downsides of the planned EU-US free trade agreement is long: lamentable transparency, private arbitration and more. Europe cannot afford to compromise on its standards, says DW's Jens Thurau.

14.01.2015 DW Global 3000 TTIP

It doesn't sound like a bad idea, per se: The United States government, representing some 320 million Americans, hammers out a deal streamlining trade with the European Union, home to around 510 million Europeans.

In a multipolar world such as ours, in which Asia (especially China) and South America are rapidly gaining in importance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right to note that it can't hurt for the so-called "Old World" to be as unified as possible.

From the outset, the objective was for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to have an effect outside the EU and US, too. It was meant to further Western ideals, such as liberalism and democracy, around the world. And it was meant to do so at a time when member countries of the World Trade Organization still bicker over individual rules.

Are these rules really better for everyone?

But would TTIP really do this? Would it really create clearer, better rules for everyone? Unlikely. Europe has high standards for things like chemical products. Consumer foods are free from genetic manipulation, and so is animal feed. But the same doesn't apply to our brethren across the Atlantic. American agriculturists are no strangers to GMOs, and they want to sell them to us.

In return, the US has said it'll open up its automotive market to horsepower-heavy European models, especially German ones.

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Jens Thurau is a political correspondent for DW.

Rumors that Europe was considering trading agricultural for automotive access predate Monday's leaks by Greenpeace. What's new is that our suspicions have now been confirmed. Now we have unequivocal proof.

But why are the negotiators being so cagey? Why all the secrecy? An agreement of such magnitude must be transparent from the very beginning or else people are going to start suspecting that a deal is primarily aimed at securing better conditions for large, multinational companies.

That damage has already been done, and the Greenpeace leaks only add insult to injury. They show that the US has been unwilling to compromise over private arbitration courts, in which companies may sue countries they feel are treating them unfairly. This hardly comports with most Europeans' sense of justice.

Will Europe adhere to its principles?

In the face of such intransigence, the assurances of the German government in general, and Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt in particular, that Europe won't compromise on its principles sound rather hollow. Europe won't waver when it comes to genetically-modified or hormone-treated foods? That's going to be hard, considering this is an area of extreme focus for the US.

A big part of the political frustration in Germany, and indeed elsewhere in Europe, is rooted in companies' attempts to change rules to their advantage - and politicians' willingness to let them try. Where are the parliaments in these debates? Where is the public? They're not allowed to participate.

It's true that TTIP is far from being ratified. The negotiations are only about halfway complete. But what we need now is what we've needed all along: transparency. Europe cannot compromise on its standards.

If that means TTIP is doomed to fail, then so be it.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau
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