WASHINGTON — Newly leaked documents from the chemical industries in the United States and European Union depict a joint effort to guide bilateral trade talks in a way that legal and public interest analysts warn would irreparably weaken the ability of governments in both continents to regulate toxic chemicals.
Government negotiators met this week in Brussels as part of the fourth round of negotiations toward a massive U.S.-EU free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the official agenda, one of the main points of negotiation this week was regulation.
This will likely be a point of significant debate as the TTIP talks progress, and one that the chemical industries in both the U.S. and EU have wanted to overhaul for years. The new leaked document, jointly written by the American Chemistry Council and the European Chemical Industry Council, was created ahead of the previous round of TTIP talks, in December. It offers more than 20 pages of “Proposed Agreement text” and “Expected result[s].”
“What ACC and CEFIC are proposing are specific recommendations for the creation of a scientific advisory body that we feel would have a chilling effect on the development and implementation of new laws in the U.S. and EU,” Baskut Tuncak, a staff attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group based here, told MintPress News from the TTIP talks in Brussels.
“This raises huge questions for the democratic process, and is a sensitive issue for legislators in both the U.S. and EU in terms of how much international influence they’re willing to tolerate,” Tuncak said. “This document suggests tremendous influence in how future legislation would be crafted.”
Last week, CIEL released an analysis, along with European NGO ClientEarth, of the proposals included in the leaked ACC-CEFIC document. That report notes that the chemical industry could be the “second biggest beneficiary of ‘full liberalization’ through TTIP.”
Indeed, the United Nations estimates that the trans-Atlantic use and production of chemicals may increase by 20 percent by the end of the decade, even if TTIP doesn’t pass. According to European analysis, nearly two-thirds of those chemicals are considered toxic.
The report also highlights the significant differences between U.S. and EU regulation, in both approach and intended outcome. It states that the industry proposals “appear more finely tailored to exploit those differences than to remedy them in the name of more effective, more protective regulation … regulatory cooperation under TTIP would slow and, in many cases, freeze chemicals regulation.”
The ACC says the report’s allegations “couldn’t be more wrong,” noting that it has been “very transparent” in expressing the industry view on what the TTIP talks should address.
“ACC has explicitly stated that our goal for TTIP is to maintain high standards of protection for human health and the environment while improving the ways that chemicals are regulated. Our input … does not propose any changes to current regulatory mandates on either side of the Atlantic,” the ACC told MintPress in a statement.
“Instead, we are focused on ensuring that regulatory approaches on chemicals in the U.S. and EU work more effectively together to reduce duplicative testing (which would have significant animal welfare benefits), share currently available data, and promote more – not less – transparency in the regulatory process.”
However, CIEL’s Tuncak pushed back on these claims.
“It is very ironic that the industry would be calling for procedures that would enhance transparency in the lawmaking process,” he said, “when what they’re doing here is submitting secret proposals to fundamentally alter the lawmaking processes in the U.S. and EU to their own benefit.”
While U.S. regulation is widely disparaged by conservatives and the business community here as being overly stringent, in many ways the European regulatory regime is more rigorous and less tilted toward corporate interests.
When the TTIP discussions began last summer, public interest activists from a broad spectrum of backgrounds wondered how the two continents would square their often very different regulatory approaches. The central priorities for the talks, after all, are to figure out how to increase trade and decrease the various barriers that stand in the way of higher trade levels.
According to the U.S. Trade Representative, the talks will, therefore, include a focus on “greater compatibility of U.S. and EU regulations and related standards development processes.” Negotiators will work toward this new compatibility, the USTR says, “with extensive input from stakeholders, and in collaboration with our regulators … while maintaining our high levels of health, safety, and environmental protection.”
Some have speculated that the negotiations could end up meeting in the middle of these regulatory systems, strengthening U.S. regulation while weakening the EU’s. But CIEL’s Tuncak said this isn’t likely.
“If you look at the proposals currently in the Congress on reforming U.S. law on toxic chemicals, they bear no meaningful resemblance to [relevant EU laws]. So it’s very unlikely that there would be any elevation of U.S. standards,” he said.
“One huge problem is that the ‘priority’ chemicals between the U.S. and EU are almost completely incompatible, so the trade blocks don’t really agree on what are chemicals of concern. Part of that is a reflection of just how far the U.S. is behind the EU in taking action on chemicals, but the other ramification is that, through this common approach, the total pool of chemicals will be reduced.”
The industry proposal also puts forth a longstanding demand to mandate full cost-benefit analyses for any new regulatory proposal. Past investigation has suggested that such analyses tend to either focus solely on or overemphasize the direct cost of regulation to the industry, rather than taking into account the comprehensive impact of the regulation’s focus — for example, a toxic chemical — on human or environmental health.
Indeed, current U.S. law regulating chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is widely seen as ineffective, specifically due to its incorporation of this type of cost-benefit analysis. According to recent congressional testimony by James Jones, a high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency official, the EPA has only been able to regulate five chemicals under the act’s cost-benefit section over the past 38 years.
So far, the TTIP talks have been notable for their secrecy and, activists say, lack of input from many stakeholders. The U.S. administration says such secrecy is critical for ensuring that the delicate, complex negotiations central to any large-scale trade agreement between sovereign entities can move forward in the first place. Yet, critics point out that the only publicly available information on the details of the TTIP talks have come out through leaked documents.
The new position paper from the chemical industry is a notable example, and one that underscores many pre-existing fears for civil society. The CIEL-ClientEarth report notes that the industry proposals “patently do not include civil society as a stakeholder” regarding the regulation of either the production or use of toxic chemicals.
“While the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, with civil society kept in the dark and business getting privileged access, it is becoming clear that powerful industry groups are trying to use these trade talks to increase their profits at the expense of safeguards for citizens and the environment,” Natacha Cingotti, a corporate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, told MintPress.
“The joint U.S.-EU industry proposal on chemicals is promoting increased influence for industry in shaping future regulation, with ever less transparency for the public to understand the risks they could be exposed to. If they go through, these proposals could seriously undermine democratic decision-making in the future.
On Friday, Friends of the Earth Europe and 26 other advocacy groups called on the European Commission to release all negotiating texts associated with the TTIP. The organizations, which included labor, trade and consumer advocates, are likewise focusing on concerns over plans for regulatory “compatibility” between the U.S. and EU.
“This means that the outcome has much less to do with traditional trade issues such as tariffs than with the regulations and standards that apply in the EU and the US and that affect every single aspect of citizens’ daily lives,” the letter, addressed to Karel de Gucht, the European Commissioner for Trade, states, “from the quality of the food we eat to the safety of chemicals we use, the energy we consume, or the impact of financial services on each of us.”