Recently, the United States and the European Union announced plans to begin negotiations of a trade and investment agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This comes on the heels of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a separate trade negotiation with 10 other countries. As discussions about these agreements continue, some principles should be considered to ensure that consumers benefit.
Close cooperation between the United States and other countries can be helpful to address common challenges and ensure that the marketplace is safe and fair for consumers. Consumer protection should not be viewed as a barrier to trade; it strengthens trade by instilling consumer confidence and trust in the marketplace. When consumer protection is inadequate, markets fail, as the recent economic crisis has so vividly demonstrated. Therefore, trade pacts must have at their center the advancement of consumer well-being.
Trade should not trump consumer protection. Members of Congress have previously raised concerns about the impact of the TPP on food safety protections for imported seafood. Efforts to dismantle existing consumer protections or to prevent new consumer protections from being implemented should not be tolerated. Any agreement that aims toward regulatory convergence must require high standards for consumer protection and not impinge on countries’ rights to enact stronger standards when they deem it necessary. In the TTIP, the United States and the European Union must be allowed to establish non-discriminatory food safety, nutrition and labeling standards that are stronger than the harmonized norm and that meet the objective of consumer protection. These principles should be incorporated into the framework of the agreement.
In addition, the process should be an open one in which negotiating texts are publicly available and all stakeholders can be actively involved. Particularly for the TTIP, which is just beginning, the United States and European Union should create a Consumer Advisory Committee that is briefed regularly and provided the opportunity to provide input in the process. In addition, the U.S. Trade Representative should provide regular updates on its website, including timely posting of documents, stakeholder comments and input provided to the agency. Such transparency and engagement is absolutely crucial for these trade negotiations to be successful and credible.