Have you been nodding and smiling, pretending to know exactly what they are talking about whenever someone mentions TTIP? Not sure whether it is a transatlantic disaster in the making or the way of the future? Don’t worry; you’re not the only one. It is, however, time to figure out what this mysterious acronym actually stands for.
Facilitating trade between the United States and the European Union is what it is all about. TTIP, pronounced T-tip and short for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a potential agreement that could unify the North American and European markets into the biggest area of free trade in the world. It would consist of more than 829 million consumers and cover one third of global trade.
If implemented, TTIP would make it easier for European companies to do business in the US and for American companies to operate on European soil. Trade barriers on services and goods would be removed, such as customs duties, which currently make the price of an American product in Europe more expensive then if you bought in the US and vice versa.
Regulation standards and safety testing on products such as foods, pharmaceuticals and vehicles, for example, would also be harmonised. This aspect of TTIP has many Europeans wringing their hands. They are concerned it will mean a future of more GMOs (Genetically modified organisms) and higher levels of chemicals allowed in products.
Another goal of TTIP is to make the rules for cooperation on, for example, energy and raw materials between the EU and US more “open and competition friendly”. For the EU this would most likely mean a higher dependency on US resources in the future, something that European environmentalists, among others, oppose as they believe it would increase the import of not-so-environmental-friendly types of fuels from the US, such as shale gas and oil.
All in favour?
In sum, the EU believes that the transatlantic trade deal would be extremely profitable for the Union. They claim that TTIP could stimulate growth in the European economy with as much as 119 billion euros per year, benefit businesses, both big and small, as well as create lots of new jobs for EU citizens. Critics on the other hand are worried it might be the other way around.
The Stop TTIP alliance is one of the biggest protesters of the potential partnership. With over 500 civil society organisations and trade unions from all over Europe opposing the deal under their umbrella, they are steadily raising the political awareness of the negative outcome TTIP could have for Europe.
“TTIP is a danger for our democratic rights. It will facilitate lobbyism and it will limit the rights of our citizens”, says Anne Daenner, spokesperson for the organisation. She believes that their initiative, currently focusing on a petition which more 3 200 000 people have signed so far, is having an impact. “Politicians have noticed that they can’t go on with this without the support of their citizens.”
Will this fall be the (down)fall of TTIP?
As October unravels the future of TTIP will become clearer as the next round of EU-US negotiations unfolds. This month will also be an important moment in time for the TTIP opposition, with big manifestations scheduled around Europe during their “Days of Action Against TTIP” from the 10th to the 17th.
“We have already achieved political pressure, but we will continue our work,“ says Anne Daenner. “More people are definitely catching on and the resistance towards TTIP is growing.”
TTIP – a big, but not done, deal
The first step towards a free trade agreement with the US was taken back in 2011. The EU member states then decided, through the EU Council, to put the European Commission in charge of the bargaining on behalf of the union. The first official negotiations with the US took place in July 2013. Since then 10 rounds have been concluded in search for common ground between the potential partners. New talks are scheduled to take place later this month.
Once, or rather if, the EU and the US strikes a deal, a text (probably more like a really heavy book) specifying the terms of the partnership will be published. It’s then up to the European Parliament as well as every EU member state to individually decide if they want to accept the agreement. This process is what the Commission refers to as “the double democratic guarantee”, since a unanimous yes from all member state is required for the EU to be able to implement the deal.