Beyond economics: the geopolitical importance of TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, better known as TTIP, is a trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies—the EU and the US. By lowering non-tariff barriers and setting common rules, it promises to bring a post-crisis boost to Europe and refresh the old alliance. But this Euro-Atlantic partnership also has its detractors. The critics are few but they have been making their voices clearly heard ever since the European Commission received the mandate for negotiations in July 2013.

Despite the Commission’s hard work to bust the myths surrounding the agreement, it seems to be easier for people to unite in opposition to it. This year dozens of protests have taken place across Europe and anti-TTIP campaigns have mushroomed on social media. In addition, Julian Assange’s Wikileaks has publicly claimed that the deal lacks transparency. The news leaks organisation has launched a campaign to crowd-source a €100,000 reward for ‘Europe’s most wanted secret’—the prize will go to anyone who can secure information on TTIP (Wikileaks 2015).

The reasons for such criticism of the deal are eclectic—from a general anti-US attitude, to claims that the deal will empower multinational corporations and fears of losing control over the high standards of food on the European market. Scaremongering and misinformation are unavoidable obstacles when discussing far-reaching supranational agreements—and the bigger the agreement, the greater the fear. With the US and the EU accounting for almost 45 % of global trade and 60 % of global investment flows (Berger 2014), TTIP would become the biggest trade deal of its kind.

There are three broad areas being negotiated under the EU–US trade deal: market access for businesses, regulatory cooperation and international rules to address global challenges. The two economic super-blocs have one of the most integrated markets in the world and tariffs between them are already very low at less than 3 % (European Commission 2015a). The crucial part of the agreement is therefore its second pillar, which aims to reduce non-tariff barriers and standardise regulations.

Coherence in standards on both shores of the Atlantic would increase efficiency, cut bureaucratic costs and have major economic benefits. It would also become a powerful tool to ensure that such standards are advanced globally, thus helping to promote the spillover of Western-style trade rules. But neither ‘regulatory cooperation’ nor ‘liberalising trade’ seem to be popular enough topics to take the lead in public discussions.

There is a shortage of empirical data available to help European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström get the detractors of TTIP on her side. Its critics say there is a lot to lose and little to gain (The Economist 2015). Instead of an economic narrative, those advocating a comprehensive deal should focus on storytelling that makes it easier to understand what is at stake and gives the potential geopolitical impact of the agreement a prominent role.

Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.