The 16th TACD Annual Forum ‘The precautionary principle in TTIP: Trade barrier or essential for consumer protection” took place on Tuesday, 26 January 2016 at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels.
The successful Forum brought together no less than 170 EU and U.S. government officials, consumer advocates and industry stakeholders. As suggested in the title, the focus of this year’s event was to examine the concept of precautionary principle and how it is applied in regulation in the EU and the US. The Forum hosted three plenary sessions moderated by journalist Jacki Davis and four thematic round tables, as well as an armchair discussion between the EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström and Ira Rheingold of the National Association for Consumer Advocates (NACA) on EU’s proposed Investment Court System to replace the contentious Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
All plenary discussions were followed by Q&A sessions, offering participants a chance to actively contribute to the debates. The event sparked a lively debate also in the social media – numerous comments and reactions were sent on Twitter, through the event hash tag #TACDFORUM, which trended in Belgium on the day. Our colleagues from BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, summed up the Twitter discussion in this brief Storify.
The opening session featured an all women panel – EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill and BEUC’s Director General and EU Co-chair of TACD, Monique Goyens.
In her opening remarks, Commissioner Malmström highlighted the fact that the precautionary principle is a key tool in European policy-making and assured consumers that the EU will “defend the precautionary approach to regulation in Europe in TTIP and all other agreements”. She argued that TTIP could in fact allow for a better implementation of the precautionary principle, as intensifying regulatory cooperation will enable the EU to pool resources and expertise with U.S. authorities.
Commissioner Julie Brill of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission talked about reconciling the precautionary principle with the U.S. cost-benefit analysis approach, pointing out that while “in the U.S. and Europe, discussions of the precautionary principle tend to be framed in terms of a battle with the cost-benefit framework”, the two are not incompatible and in fact seek to achieve similar aims.
However, BEUC’s Monique Goyens pointed out the growing problems of scientific research being increasingly funded by industry and highlighted the importance of neutral scientific research to secure the precautionary principle in TTIP: “Scientific data is vital to rule making, but we must be critical of science that is one-sided, privately-funded”, she explained.
Discussion with Commissioner Malmström on EU’s proposed Investment Court System in TTIP
Following the opening keynotes, Commissioner Malmström participated in a short debate with Ira Rheingold of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and U.S. Co-chair of TACD’s Financial Services Policy Committee on EU’s proposed Investment Court System (ICS) – a reformed approach to investment protection and investment dispute resolution in TTIP, replacing the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
Malmström explained that ICS is an attempt to address the main concerns raised by the European Parliament and civil society with regard to the fairness and impartiality of the ISDS. She argued that TTIP needs an arbitration system to fight trade discrimination and pointed out that ICS brings improvements in terms of transparency and accountability in comparison to the “old-fashioned” ISDS. In response, Ira Rheingold explained that while the Commission’s efforts to reform ISDS are appreciated, there is no reason to include a system for investors to challenge government regulation in TTIP, as both the EU and the U.S. have robust court systems in place that are well equipped to protect investors: “We can be sure that an army of lawyers will analyse and exploit ICS to challenge laws consumers care about”, he said.
Last month, TACD launched a position paper in response to EU’s ICS proposal, outlining main reasons for concern.
Plenary session: Precautionary principle in the EU and the US
The first plenary session centred on the concept of the precautionary principle and how it is currently used in regulatory policy in the US and the EU. The EU is widely considered more precautionary in several key policy areas, including consumer policy as well as food and health, and therefore there is wide-spread concern regarding the impact of the TTIP on the ability of governments to regulate in the societal interest. Others argue that regulations in the US frequently apply precaution, but for different areas and policies.
The speakers on this panel were Ladislav Miko of the European Commission’s DG Health and Food Safety (SANTE), Alberto Allemano, Professor of Law at HEC Paris, Jean Halloran of Consumers Union and Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy. At the end of the lively debate, panellists were asked to identify one priority for TTIP that will ensure the precautionary principle can be used to protect consumers without acting as a barrier to trade. Jean Halloran proposed the exclusion of all public health measures from ISDS, and pointed out that TTIP must explicitly recognize the precautionary principle. Professor Allemano proposed building more transparency and inclusiveness in TTIP, while Ladislav Miko highlighted that it is important that “the TTIP discussion focuses on the convergence of what is positive on both sides”. Mary Bottari suggested that regulatory cooperation should focus on issues such as “an early warning system for dangerous financial products that could collapse the global economy”.
Plenary discussion with Ambassador Michel Punke, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
Right after the lunch break, Michael Punke, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization – addressed the audience on the U.S. position. On the issue of transparency in TTIP, Ambassador Punke argued that “an element of secrecy” is inherent in trade negotiations, but that USTR is “trying to do better on transparency as we go along”. In response, representatives of consumer groups strongly argued that without access to consolidated texts, it is impossible for consumers to engage with the government and provide feedback on issues that can strongly affect consumer and other protections.
Closing plenary: Precautionary principle in TTIP
The Forum ended with a lively session with Ignacio Garcia Bercero, EU Chief TTIP negotiator, Ed Mierzwinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, Klaus Müller of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, Magda Stoczkiewicz of Friends of the Earth Europe and Tim Bennett of the Transatlantic Business Council. The panel discussion was focused on the implications of the precautionary principle for the TTIP negotiations.
Similarly to the morning plenary, panellists were asked to identify one “key ingredient” for TTIP that would ensure that the precautionary principle can still be used to protect consumers. Klaus Müller advocated for a slimmed down, “light TTIP”, meaning that some areas would need to be excluded from the negotiations, ensuring that environmental and consumer protection standards would not be lowered. Ignacio Garcia said that not weakening and, if possible, increasing the level of consumer protection would be key. Magda Stocziewicz highlighted the necessity of “carving sensitive sectors out of TTIP”, while Tim Bennett pointed out that keeping the regulatory development process as open as possible to all groups is extremely important. Ed Mierzwinski, TACD’s US Co-chair concluded by saying that: “Consumers need TTIP like a fish needs a bicycle“.
The final programme for the event can be found here.