Will agricultural issues defeat the TTIP?
|April 25, 2016
The 13th round of the TTIP negotiations were held in New York between April 25 and 27, 2016. Discussions continued on the regulatory convergence between the European Union and the United States, but the Americans seem to be willing to delay as much as possible the discussions on the European proposal on a more transparent arbitration procedure to resolve future conflicts between multinational corporations and nations. In addition, negotiations on the tariff issue (reduction of customs duties) are getting nowhere, as the parties still have not begun to address the “sensitive” issue of some agricultural commodities, such as meat1.
For the time being, some civil society movements and an increasing number of politicians and key economic stakeholders are criticizing the conditions under which this partnership is being negotiated. As a result, support to the TTIP is plummeting in Germany and in the US. Only 17 percent of the German population feels that the TTIP is a good thing, against 55 percent two years ago; In the US, only 18 percent of the people surveyed endorses the TTIP, against 55 percent in 20142. Furthermore, EU member states are divided: In The Netherlands, the idea of a referendum on the TTIP is currently on the agenda, and France has said it retains the right to oppose it... In the end, the TTIP is in serious jeopardy.
Agriculture as a bargaining chip is also disapproved on the other side of the Atlantic. There, farmers’ organizations fear more than anything else that this transatlantic partnership will work against them, and are making their voices heard. “We are confronted to a powerful farm lobby. And if the transatlantic treaty is not concluded in favor of American farmers, we will not support it,” stated Michael Froman3, the United States Trade Representative.
Indeed, let’s not forget an astonishing figure: Beef imports to the United States account for close to 14 percent of the 2015 beef supply, and even exceeded exports in 2014, leading to a drop in domestic prices (-6%)4. We thus have a better understanding of the American farmers’ distrust regarding the TTIP: Even in a sector where it is often said their interest would be to be proactive, it is difficult to forget that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
As another sign of hardening of agricultural issues, on April 22, over a dozen US senators5 from both parties addressed a letter to Michael Froman, urging him not to consent to the agreement as long as the European Union does not remove its customs and non-tariff barriers (including geographical indications and hormone use). These senators feel “the European Union should do more to open up all its agricultural activities”6. Such type of “all or nothing” positions really shows that we are quite far from the belief that opening up trade serves the public good.
On the European side and at the request of MEP Marc Tarabella, a new hearing at the European Parliament plenary session will take place next July 14 on the TTIP and the USDA report, whose conclusions showed that Europe would be the agreement’s big loser, as also reported by momagri. This is an encouraging prospect for now, since, as written by Pierre Defraigne, Executive Director of the Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation, in a paper antagonistic to the TTIP, “The EU has not reached its age of majority as a geopolitical stakeholder: It has no common vision and no means of action.”7 Faced with such strategic void and without any rapid response from all member states, the European Union ultimately might lay to rest not only its social and environmental standards, as well as its agricultural model.
1 « Les chances de conclure le TTIP sous le mandat Obama sont très minces », le Monde, 25 avril 2016,
2 « Tafta/TTIP. Soutien en chute libre en Allemagne et aux États-Unis », 21 avril 2016
4 “A review of US Tariff Rate Quotas for Beef Imports”, April 2016, USDA