The talks between the EU and the US on standards are happening behind closed doors, with no representatives of parliaments to witness them, and with little public scrutiny.
Often, they are framed as technical voluntary discussions between experts. But the political reality is that they are in fact discussions whose aim is to align and harmonise standards and approval processes between the EU and the US. As the overall aim is clearly to stimulate more trade and reduce costs for business, this creates strong pressure to lower existing standards and/or weaken new ones. So-called ‘regulatory cooperation’ also gives strong influence to big business, by giving them a seat at the table in the early stages of developing regulatory standards. This can in turn and how this can lead to the side-lining of other concerns than trade, such as food safety, and of democratic actors, such as parliamentarians. All of this can be very problematic for democratic decision-making as it risks business interests being put ahead of public interest.
One striking example is the pharmaceutical lobby. In its submission on these trade talks, it is asking for early collaboration between ‘stakeholders’ in legislative processes. These would include EU and US industry associations, academia, and public private partnerships. If granted, this would allow industry a disproportionately strong say in the early stages of legislative processes. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical industry lobby has asked for support from the EU and the US for this dialogue with experts and for resources, most probably financial.1
This illustrates the serious risk of corporate capture of policy-making through the ongoing EU-US trade talks.
Another illustration of the danger of ‘regulatory cooperation’ can be seen in how the trade negotiations consider regulatory differences between the EU and the US on issues such as the environment, health and safety. Such regulations are referred to as “non-trade barriers”, which has a strong negative connotation. In reality, such standards are actually designed to protect citizens, the environment and the public interest in areas such as health, safety, labour and climate change.