U.S. labor and environmental groups, largely silent in the run-up to the U.S.-Europe free-trade talks, now say they worry that the negotiations could be used to weaken consumer, health and other standards on both sides of the Atlantic.
Talks over what could become the world’s largest free-trade zone officially began Monday in Washington, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman telling negotiators from the United States and Europe that they were poised “to complement one of the greatest alliances of all time with an equally compelling economic relationship.”
As the U.S. and E.U. economies struggle to boost growth, activist groups said Monday that they worry that the compulsion on both sides will be to push toward lower regulation — with the United States trying to undercut generally more restrictive food and chemical rules in Europe, and the Europeans trying to tear down government procurement restrictions that favor U.S. companies and to weaken U.S. financial rules that impose new restrictions on European banks.
“We caution against unwarranted optimism. There are significant risks” in the negotiations, said Celeste Drake, a trade analyst with the AFL-CIO, including demands by Europe for U.S. states and cities to drop “buy America” or other local purchase provisions.
Rather than see the United States become more restrictive in the rules governing genetically modified foods, the regulation of chemicals and other safety issues, the activist groups see the nation pressing Europe for looser standards. Environmental groups said in a conference call Monday that they also worried that the terms of an agreement could give Europe unlimited access to U.S. natural gas supplies and thus increase the use of “fracking” to meet the demand for exports.
Note EU-Digest: "As one undisclosed European negotiator remarked after the first meeting:" when you make a deal with the devil someone will get hurt and it won't be the devil".
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