What’s the problem?
The European Union is currently (October 2020) negotiating more than two dozen Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The ones of particular interest to foodwatch are the so-called “new generation” FTAs like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. CETA has already been adopted by the European Parliament and the heads of government in the European Council, and is being provisionally applied while the ratification process of by each of the 27 EU Member States is underway.
The new generation FTAs differ from a more standard trade agreement as they focus primarily on the elimination of “non-tariff barriers” and less on the reduction/removal of custom duties or subsidies. These “non-tariff trade barriers” include standards of consumer, health and environmental protection. The basic thought is that if consumer, health or environmental standards are different in one of the trading partners than the other, this will be a barrier to the free movement of these products.
These standards are threatened under CETA, and in the USA equivalent – TTIP. For example standards from each treaty party can be recognized as ‘equivalent’. If this happens, it would no longer be possible for the EU or Canada to improve on their standards without the prior approval of the other party – the standards are frozen as they are. If a lower and a higher standard from the two parties, for example regarding hygienic controls or pesticide use, are recognised as ‘equivalent’, this can lead to an overall reduction in health and safety standards for citizens, as again improvements on standards for protection of health will be difficult to make.
Decisions on standards can be made by “Treaty Committees” which operate without necessary transparency and without sufficient democratic control. The European Parliament is side-lined from the decisions-making process. CETA like TTIP are considered as “living agreements”. This means that the committees can even add or change annexes to the treaty and by doing so change it over time. Investment courts have been put in place to grant investors special rights to sue governments over domestic laws which may limit trade.
What is the solution?
We need trade agreements that do not pose a threat to democracy. We need trade to strengthen consumer, environmental and social rights. foodwatch is not against international trade or free trade agreements, however, we firmly believe that all trade deals must be negotiated transparently, create fair trade conditions and serve the prosperity of all citizens instead of simply increasing the profits of large companies. CETA does not satisfy these criteria and must therefore be stopped immediately!
What is foodwatch doing?
foodwatch is educating the public about the threats that these new trade deals pose to democracy, especially to consumer rights. In 2015 the book “Die Freihandelslüge” (The Free Trade Lie) by foodwatch founder Thilo Bode spent several weeks on the bestseller lists in Germany. Together with other organisations, foodwatch organised protests against TTIP and CETA in Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. foodwatch has lodged a constitutional complaint against CETA to the German Federal Constitutional Court, and is awaiting a decision.