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The View from Europe: Say No to TTIP

Ryan Gellert  /  May 12, 2016  /  3 Min Read  /  Our Footprint

Organic cotton field in Texas. Since 1996, Patagonia has used only organic cotton, which uses nature-based solutions to manage pests and build healthy soil, instead of the synthetic pesticides, herbicides, defoliants, fertilizers and GMO seeds used to grow conventional cotton. Photo: Tim Davis

This past week Greenpeace leaked 248 pages of negotiating texts and internal position papers that reveal a deep rift among the 28 European governments, the European Union and the U.S., involved in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The Greenpeace report has caused an uproar here in Europe, including an announcement of opposition by the French government to the pact as it stands. Negotiations, which have already stretched out over three years, now appear to be in jeopardy.

Everyone for and against the pact acknowledges that TTIP has little to do with removing trade barriers, which have long fallen. The focus instead is on harmonizing environmental, health and animal welfare standards, which are generally stronger in the E.U. than in the United States.

A big case in point: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The E.U. has adopted the “precautionary principle,” which precludes the adoption of a new process or technology that poses unknown or unevaluated risks. Guided by the precautionary principle, the E.U. has allowed the cultivation of only one genetically modified plant, a specific breed of corn (“maize” in Europe) grown by only five nations on 1.5 percent of Europe’s arable land.

By contrast, the United States follows a different path. It allows more liberal adoption of the new and untested, then attempts to manage resulting environmental risk. Forgoing the precautionary principle, the United States allows cultivation of more than 170 genetically modified plants. Large parts of the American Midwest have been given over to monocultures of genetically modified corn and soy.

We have long admired the E.U.’s principled approach to GMOs and other environmental and social standards. TTIP puts that all at risk; “harmonizing,” in this case, is likely to result in a race to the bottom.

Patagonia opposes TTIP, as we did TPP, for its potential to weaken, and prevent the strengthening, of labor and environmental protections, even though TTIP’s transnational harmonization of standards potentially benefits our company’s bottom line. We do not want to see lower standards for human and environmental health and animal welfare on our side of the Atlantic. We believe that communities and nations have the right to protect themselves against a corporate-driven impoverishment of environmental and social standards.

As with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been signed but is not yet in force, the language of leaked TTIP drafts contain a disturbing Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism that allows foreign multinational companies to sue for lost profits should any of the participating nations strengthen environmental protections above the levels specified by the agreement. Chevron is reported to have lobbied for provisions that prevent European governments from banning fracking.

Patagonia also opposed the NAFTA and GATT agreements of the early 1990s, in those cases because we suspected they would adversely affect our business. They did. Before those agreements came into force, more than half of Patagonia’s garments were sourced from U.S. textile mills and sewn in U.S. factories. NAFTA and GATT decimated the U.S. textile industry, including its specialty, high-value manufacturers.

In an age of free trade the critical question to ask of any new pact is: Who benefits? Does our earth gain relief from the crushing pressures of pollution, water scarcity and climate change? Does TTIP serve the many, on both sides of the Atlantic, or only a few—those who have the economic and political muscle to get their interests written, opaquely and without public oversight, into law? As the interests behind TTIP come to light, it’s easy to say no to what we can now see.

Show your support for the European initiative against TTIP and CETA by signing here:

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