The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, also known as TTIP, has Europe torn between its need to be more competitive on the global stage and its desire to preserve its high standards – especially in food security and environmental and consumer protection. However, according to Anna Maria Corazza Bilt, it is possible to do both. Corazza Bilt represents Sweden in the European Parliament where she serves as Vice Chair of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. We talked with her about the challenges of TTIP and the importance and potential of preserving standards.
Ms. Corazza Bilt, you gave an impassioned speech recently in Milan at The Aspen Forum at Expo on the need to push through TTIP in order to make Europe more competitive. The challenge has been what you described as an “unholy union” in the European Parliament over the issue. Are you seeing progress?
We cannot miss the train for growth, jobs and competitiveness with the rest of the world and this is a unique opportunity to converge standards and regulations between the United States and the European Union. So, the geopolitical and strategic importance of this free trade agreement is really important for the European Union. We need to have vision and my hope is that we can have a much more united position between the two major groups in the European Parliament, which are the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists. So far we’ve seen that it is very difficult for the socialists to unite especially on the issue of the dispute mechanism. We have recently achieved a strong majority with a vote in the European Parliament. This is a very strong political signal, which will be very positive to the negotiations, that will help us to move forward, and move fast on a comprehensive trade agreement with the United States.
You stressed that Europe needs to better engage the United States in order to accomplish this agreement – especially as the US seems ever more focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. How can this be done?
It is important to not put too many roadblocks in front of our negotiators and rather leave them with more freedom in the frame of the mandate that they have. Then we need to provide public debates, allow for public scrutiny and give a democratic basis to the agreement in the European Parliament. This is all important because there is a lot of need for negotiating power with the US on issues like public procurement, access to the service market and standardization which are all very problematic and are areas where we do not see sufficient progress. So, we need to engage with Washington with a lot of political clout, instead of going around in circles in the European Union on issues that are actually not so relevant, in my view, to the final agreement. At the same time, it is extremely important to listen to the legitimate concerns and the fears of people surrounding the standards that we have on food security, on animal welfare, on the environment and on climate – which are not going to be affected by the agreement. I would like to say very clearly, we will never accept an agreement that would lower our standards. We are the ones deciding on the standards. The negotiators do not have this in their mandate. So, food security, animal welfare, environmental standards cannot be changed by the negotiators.
You are from Parma, an area of excellence in food production. Could TTIP be an opportunity for Europe to showcase its high standards to the world?
My family produced parmesan cheese and Parma ham for a hundred years. I come from the excellence of the Italian food culture and I am proud of it. I foresee that, on the contrary, together with the United States we could shape global standards so that our kids could live in a world where the food security standards from the combined forces of the United States and the European Union would be the standards for everybody, so that safe food could be for all of the people of the world and that there would be sufficient food for everybody. So, I think that a common framework and a common coordination body for shaping future regulations and future standards will be very important. We have to convince the United States to work with us. At the moment it is very difficult and this is one of the areas where we see problems in the negotiations because of very fragmented standard-setting systems in which every single federal state can set its own standards on a commercial basis. So, the convergence of standards, the mutual recognition of standards, and setting future standards is one of the problematic parts, but it is also one of the most important parts of the agreement.
There is quite a bit of opposition in Europe to TTIP. What would you say to opponents regarding the various question marks, including transparency?
Transparency and democracy are really important for this agreement and it’s going to be the most democratic and transparent trade agreement in the history of the European Union because we have access to the documents. The documents will be published before the Parliament will vote. The agreement will be voted upon by the European Parliament and the national parliaments. In the European Parliament we have just adopted a resolution that calls for including the opinions of all of the different committees, which means points of view from food security, environment, workers’ rights, consumer protection and climate change – every single issue that concerns the people of Europe. We are turning a new leaf through public debate, by including civil society, by listening to experts and by inviting the representatives of all concerned interest groups to speak their minds. From that point of view, the process is really very democratic. I would like to repeat that the standards cannot be changed by the negotiators. The standards can only be changed by legislators.