For all the talk about new trade patterns, it is still important to cultivate old links. The share of total UK exports going to the Brics may have increased from 2.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent over the last 15 years (ONS, 2013), yet exports to the EU (45 per cent) and the US (17 per cent) still represent the bulk of British trade. This says a lot about the European single market’s significance and the potential impact of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
TTIP negotiations have so far been met with considerable public suspicion, especially among left-leaning voters. Three issues have stood out in the media: the negotiations’ lack of transparency; the potential threat to the EU’s high social, environmental and food safety standards; and the risk of seeing the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism turn into a corporate weapon against national public services.
The European commission has relentlessly tried to sooth these concerns. No one can deny transparency is a greater reality today. Numerous and credible assurances have been given about the protection of European norms and public services.
Our contributors this week assess the claims surrounding the debate. Dennis Novy of the University of Warwick and the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance takes the optimistic view. He argues that TTIP provides Europeans with a unique opportunity to shape global standards, and that it would substantially boost consumers’ purchasing power in the long term.
By contrast, Ferdi De Ville of Ghent University and Gabriel Siles-Brügge of the University of Manchester and the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for European Politics write that TTIP’s windfalls are vastly overestimated. “Rather than setting new high global standards … TTIP is likely to put downward pressure on existing and future domestic rule-setting”.
What is certain is that more needs to be done to win hearts and minds. According to Eurobarometer, only a narrow majority of Europeans support TTIP, with much stronger support in northern and eastern Europe than in western continental countries. Concerns over the impact on jobs and wages are particularly high. As Alastair Reed from Policy Network suggests, it is time for European progressive politicians to throw their weight behind TTIP and ensure the agreement benefits consumers, creates jobs and delivers higher living standards. Compensatory measures for ‘TTIP losers’ need to be developed. Otherwise failure to achieve ratification after several years of talks might cause lasting damage to transatlantic relations.