US says trade trumps safety
I have blogged here several times about the possible effects on health and safety of the proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
According to the European TUC the agreement could have “enormous implications” for workers regarding employment policy, social security, environmental protection, occupational health and safety protection and the protection of minority rights. An example of how this could happen has just come to light.
Recently we have had a big debate in Europe over a particularly nasty group of chemicals called endocrine (hormone) disruptors. There are lots of these, ranging from cleaning products, through fire retardants to the lining of cans. The question is not whether they are dangerous, but what criteria there should be for identifying them and the harm they do. To try to answer that, the European Commission ran a consultation last year.
The response to this public consultation was published on Friday 24 July. There were 27,000 responses. The vast majority called for strong regulation to protect people from endocrine disruptors and that the “precautionary principle” should be used. That means that you should be able to restrict the use of any chemicals that where there is good reason to suspect that there is a risk. This principle has been used by regulators over nanotechnology, and is also the principle behind the licensing of new drugs.
However one response did jump out. It came from the United States Government. It said, “creating technical regulations on the basis of hazard-based criteria are often more trade restrictive than necessary because risk-based mitigation measures exist, and do not fulfil a legitimate objective as they are not supported by scientific evidence.” Adopting a system based solely on the hazardous properties of substances, “could have severe implications for EU imports of US agricultural goods.”
Basically what they are saying is “trade trumps safety”.
Now you may ask what this has to do with TTIP. Well, if the chemical companies get their way, the treaty will mean that the EU will not be able to restrict the importation or use of any suspected endocrine disruptors, or any other carcinogens, on the basis that there is a likely risk. They will only be able to do it once there is absolute evidence. By then of course the damage will be done.
We know from existing trade agreements in other parts of the world that Governments and corporations will be willing to use this to their advantage. Uruguay is currently being sued under another trade agreement for taking action against tobacco manufacturers and trade agreements have been used against governments that have banned asbestos in the past.
Trade agreements must not allow either other Governments or multinational companies prevent regulations aimed at protecting workers from being exposed to something where there is good reason to believe it may be hazardous or consumers.
For more about why TTIP is bad for workers read this blog from my colleague Owen Tudor.