The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations are still in their infancy but the uproar has already begun; water cannons, police ‘kettling’, and protesters (including a sitting Belgian MP) arrested by the hundreds in Brussels. The fear? The erosion of sovereignty, the empowerment of the international corporatocracy, and the discarding of environmental and social standards in exchange for lubricating the flow of trade to the benefit of the rich and multinational corporations only. The cause for concern? Clauses being debated for inclusion in TTIP such as Investor State Dispute Settlement and the right to ‘fair and equitable treatment’, which essentially allows an investor to take direct legal action against a foreign government if it deems a policy or other action violates any international agreement or is not in line with fair expectations an investor would have. The standardization of regulatory measures that complicate trade, a stated goal for both the EU and the United States in any proposed deal, are also of great concern to many, particularly Europeans, due to the fact that Europe’s food and environmental regulations are seen as significantly stricter than those in the United States.
|Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and EU Commission President Jose Barroso formalizing CETA|
So as these nuances of a proposed TTIP agreement between the United States and the European Union become ever more hotly debated as the negotiations continue, it is very telling to look at how this proposed deal compares to other trade agreements the EU has both negotiated and ultimately signed on to, namely the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and the United States’ northern neighbor, Canada.
What makes this comparison so interesting is that CETA, which was covered specifically on our blog here, is in many ways the progenitor of TTIP. It was the European Union’s first attempt at a free trade agreement with a G8 nation. In fact, due to the scope and content of the agreement, CETA is viewed by many as a model of 21st century international trade and thus a model for all future agreements, not only including TTIP but also the Trans Pacific agreement which, for Canada and the US, looms in the not too distant future. In the same vein, the many aforementioned clauses proposed for TTIP that have attracted such criticism all exist in CETA and although the extent of the similarities cannot be known until both deals are finalized, it is fair to conclude that the basement of any TTIP agreement has been set with CETA.
While CETA has had a few negative responses from activist groups or concerns from business people on both sides of the Atlantic, there have been no public protests and almost zero grassroots vitriol directed towards it. Why is it then that the public reaction to TTIP has been so negative, even as the negotiations are not near completion, when CETA has been agreed to in principle with barely any public response?
The easy answer is simply because a deal with the United States matters more. The EU and the United States have the world’s largest bilateral trade relations, which together make up around 50% of the entire world GDP. There is an impact inherent to deals involving the United States that Canada, despite having a top 15 GDP and a relatively large economic reach, simply cannot match. Whether the deal with the United States is good or bad, it will have a far greater positive or negative impact than a similarly good or bad deal with Canada. Despite the economic realities present however, it is perhaps an oversimplification to attribute the stark contrast in public opinion to only economics. To this end, it is useful to examine how citizens within the European Union in general view both Canada and the United States and how this perception could produce two very different viewpoints on two very similar trade agreements.
Frankly, over the last few years the general world opinion of the United States has slumped considerably. In a 2013 poll, conducted internationally across 25 different countries for the BBC World Service, respondents were asked to give their opinion on whether a country’s influence was mainly positive or mainly negative and 34% of respondents thought the United States had a mainly negative influence, compared to just 13% for Canada.
In fact, Canada finished second in the poll behind Germany as the country most widely believed to have a positive influence on the world. The timing of both this poll and the public discontent with a trade agreement which seemingly removes more domestic European control in favor of American interests should not be ignored; the Snowden spy affair is fresh in Europe’s mind and continues to erode public faith in the United States as a whole. In the words of Kurt Hübner of the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia, “Canada […] unlike the US enjoys sympathies on this side of the Atlantic. The political fallout of the NSA affair will trouble TTIP negotiations”.
CETA was the European Union dipping its proverbial toes in the water; TTIP is the EU taking the plunge. However, at a time when Eurosceptic parties are rising and the economic struggles of the Eurozone are still in many ways a reality, the EU is asking its citizens to let their guard down; lower regulations, remove government intervention, and embrace corporate America to reinvigorate the European economy. In short, the EU is hoping its citizens trust the numbers and the boisterous talk coming from both sides of the Atlantic. The problem is, citizens of the EU have become more and more aware in the last few years of what exactly happens when you let your guard down with Uncle Sam. Chlorine chicken and steroidal beef might be the issues in the newspapers, but the real issue might be the deep-seated general opinion of the United States that erodes the very trust the EU will plead with its citizens to have in TTIP. And as for Canada and CETA? Well, no need to protest that; Canada’s GM crops are acceptable as long as the presence is low. This really seems to sum up the entire feeling, or lack thereof, towards CETA by citizens of the European Union; Acceptable, but only because we don’t really think it will matter too much. Unfortunately for the United States, TTIP won’t have that luxury.
Morgan Breitkreutz studiert Politik und Deutsch an der Universität Alberta (Kanada) und ist Praktikant bei Open Europe Berlin.