By Caroline Copley
BERLIN, May 2 – A sweeping free trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and the United States would lower food safety and environmental standards, Greenpeace said on Monday, citing confidential documents from the talks.
But the European Commission said the documents reflected negotiating positions, not any final outcome, and the EU’s chief negotiator dismissed some of Greenpeace’s points as “flatly wrong”.
Greenpeace opposes the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), arguing with other critics that it would hand too much power to big business at the expense of consumers and national governments.
Supporters say the TTIP would deliver more than $100 billion of economic gains on both sides of the Atlantic.
Greenpeace Netherlands published 248 pages of “consolidated texts” for 13 chapters, or about half, of the deal on the website TTIP-leaks.org on Monday. They date from early April, before a round of meetings in New York last week.
“We’ve done this to ignite a debate,” Greenpeace trade expert Juergen Knirsch told a news conference in Berlin, adding that the documents showed the negotiations should be halted.
“The best thing the EU Commission can do is to say ‘Sorry, we’ve made a mistake’.”
The documents show how entrenched differences have become on both sides of the Atlantic, Greenpeace said, though Washington and Brussels said last week they could still reach a deal before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Knirsch said the texts showed the United States wanted to replace Europe’s “precautionary principle” – which prevents potentially harmful products from coming to market when their effect is unknown or disputed – with a less stringent approach.
In Europe, there is widespread opposition to allowing more imports of U.S. agricultural products due to concerns about genetically modified foods.
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom played down the significance of the texts.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are areas where the EU and the U.S. have different views,” she wrote in a blog.
“That does not mean the parties will meet halfway. In areas where we are too far apart in a negotiation, we simply will not agree. In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” she said.
In Brussels, EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero dismissed Greenpeace’s comments on the precautionary principle, adding: “We have made crystal clear that we would not agree on anything that implies changes of our regulatory regime on GMOs (genetically modified organisms).”
The negotiators aim to have “consolidated texts” by July, when a 14th round of talks is due to be held. They would then seek to settle the thornier issues in the second half of 2016.
A survey published last month by the Bertelsmann Foundation showed waning support for a TTIP deal in both Germany and the United States after three years of negotiations.
A spokesman for the German government said it was still working to complete a deal. An Economy Ministry spokeswoman said Germany would not accept lower food safety standards.