TTIP needs domestic support and transparency
Our speakers at this event (Martin Merrild, Chairman, Danish Agriculture & Food Council, Rufus Gifford, United States Ambassador to Denmark, Jakob Brix Tange, Trade Policy Ambassador, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Truels Damsgaard, CEO, DLF) agreed on the basic point that the TTIP is widely misunderstood and lacks a clear story for the public. Many parts of it have been sensationalized but it is one of a number of Free Trade Agreements that are critical to EU, Denmark and US.
Martin Merrild agreed that agriculture is a difficult point in the agreement, but not the main hurdle. DAFC strongly supports an ambitious TTIP – one that strives to tackle the difficult issues and gets it right. It is important to aim for a solution based on international standards and a scientific approach, but also to be realistic – not all issues can be easily resolved and much detailed discussion is needed.
Ambassador Rufus Gifford mentioned recently meeting President Obama, and getting the clear message from him that he wants this trade agreement to become part of his legacy and will do everything possible to keep it going strong (“run the tape” until his last day on Jan 20, 2017).
The brand “Free Trade” is not a strong brand these days in the US or globally, with even US candidates talking skeptically about it, but we should recognize that most of the anger is directed at the TPP, and that there is still tremendous political will to get the TTIP done before the next government is in place. US/DK bilateral trade relations are strong and growing – the US has tripled wind energy investment and created 20 times more solar production, and TTIP is more important than ever for helping bring Europe out of economic malaise. President Obama sees the Nordic region as critical for US and has invited the leaders of all 5 Nordic countries to Washington DC on May 13 because he sees Nordic technology as key for helping US get better in renewables and sustainable growth. The Ambassador reviewed specifics of TTIP status in agriculture and repeated that the benefits go beyond safe food – the agreement will also help EU and US compete in other markets.
According to the Ambassador, TTIP will not flood Europe with cheap food, lower the standards, diminish country’s rights or require either side to adopt the other’s practises, but rather give more choice to consumers in both markets, new healthy food options (including ecological, which Denmark excels at!), and new opportunities for Danish companies to meet US niche needs. (It won’t require Denmark to import chlorinated chicken or gene modified foods, for example, which are common myths). In terms of biotech, the US and EU agree on the safety of it but not on the labeling – get the labeling right so that consumers can read and choose what they prefer. Stop the EU delays in meeting the agreed timetables.
His closing statement: “The ultimate goal is to give citizens on both sides the best quality, best price, highest safety and best choice”.
Jakob Brix Tange from Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke succinctly about 3 key aspects: Why the TTIP is important to Denmark, Status of the agreement, and Likelihood of it being ready by year end.
The Danish government’s view is that it will boost both the US and Danish economies, and that the largest economic potential is in closer regulations cooperation – acknowledging each other’s standards and working to create an institutional structure that makes it easier to proceed. The lack of this agreement hurts especially SMEs small and medium sized companies on both sides. An EU/US TTIP can set the gold standard for future agreements, becoming a template for others to follow, so it is important to continue the work to finalize it. A lot of progress has been made in the past 6 months and the 13th round will occur soon in the US, so there is some possibility for the deal to be finalized by year end, but preference is for an “ambitious deal”, not a “TTIP light”. His final statement: “TTIP is too important to fail”.
Truels Damsgaard, CEO, DLF continued the discussion with a case from a company that sees the benefits – 35% of its sales are in North America. He outlined how Danish companies and DLF in particular can benefit, in the slide below (full presentation here). Danish companies would like the same tools in their toolbox as other countries have. His closing statement: “It all begins with a seed”!
In the Q&A period, the Dutch Ambassador to Denmark raised the question of what shall governments do to get TTIP accepted by the public, and the panel agreed that TTIP needs more positive PR and clarity, but that no one seems to be in charge of doing this. Who should it be? Each local government and all parties need to clearly understand the details and the economic benefits, and ensure they are talking about current standards and latest chapters, because negotiators have listened and reacted and are evolving the agreement to address the stumbling blocks, and the public needs to know more about the truth.
Transparency, openness, and intelligent well-informed debate are key. Also, giving clearer case examples of small and medium companies and how they will benefit, will help humanize the topic and bring it closer to a personal level where individuals can understand what it means to their own pockets and consumption possibilities.