After three years of intensive work on the TTIP, over 100 presentations and countless discussions with lobbyists and proponents of economic liberalism, there comes a point, does there not, when you are just bored of hearing absolutely platitudinous arguments?
Nevertheless, I still have to keep responding to them… here are my favourites:
- Free trade is the same as trade.
This is a central rhetorical ploy. Europe has been trading for quite some time with the USA, hasn’t it? Entirely without any free trade agreement. What is the difference between trade and free trade or, to put it another way, what is the trade free of? Of any legislative framework. Trading enterprises are exempt from the legislative process and therefore from democratic regulation. That is free trade.
Whether you want it, is not an economic question but a political one. I am for trade. It should be fair, not free.
- Free trade brings economic growth. Period.
The central dogma. The fact is that even the studies conducted by the Commission are assuming growth of 0.05% per annum for the first 10 years through the TTIP. I take my hat off to any economist who can make an accurate forecast at the beginning of September, pinpointing economic growth in the current year at 0.05%; a projection over 10 years of the consequences of an agreement which has barely been drafted is about as effective as reading tea leaves. The Commission even stopped using such figures over a year ago because it no longer wants to look ridiculous.
Without figures to back it up, this statement is reduced to nothing more than quasi-religious dogma.
It is also fundamentally important, however, that we do not engage in a discussion which is deliberately limited to economics. Because it is about more. For example, the USA has a surplus supply of crude oil from fracking and at the same time it has a ban on oil exports. So oil is cheap in the USA and Europe’s corporations are not allowed to buy in supplies to cover their requirements. Now the EU countries are calling for this law to be repealed under the TTIP or for the ban to be lifted for Europe.
The fracking imports which would then be possible constitute the main incentive and the stimulus which prompted the economists to calculate the growth of 0.05 per cent on paper. The oil tankers also play a key role in statistics which forecast the increase in the trading VOLUME. They carry more weight than mobile telephones.
Now let’s assume that the forecasts are right. The question would still remain as to whether we actually want to import oil from fracking on a grand scale. Is it purely an economic issue or also an ecological one? The answer of a Green is obvious but I would go one step further.
Because oil is so cheap in the USA, the country currently has precious little use for its coal – and no ban on its export. Europe currently imports one million tonnes per year. I am not interested in expanding this trade. I want to see an expansion in the sources of renewable energy in Europe and an exit from coal as quickly as possible. This also creates the better jobs. So I specifically want to reduce the trade with the USA by the same one million tonnes. Seen only in the context of the trading volume statistics, this is a decline in trade. And this truncated discussion is fatuous and stupid.
- We have an export-oriented economy and need free trade.
The first part is true – we do have an export-oriented economy. This is deserving of active support in many sectors. In high-tech industries there are good jobs with great future prospects and only global markets so you have to be geared up for export.
Let’s take the automotive industry where Austria has many top-quality suppliers to the industry. An increase in export to the USA will create jobs. If we also managed to stimulate modern technologies in the process then that would be a win-win situation.
Europe is seeking the opposite, however, with the TTIP. Europe’s car companies are at the leading edge of diesel technology where the USA has strict exhaust regulations. VW is known to have tried to sidestep these by manipulating readings. One advantage of the TTIP would be that VW would no longer need to manipulate the figures because Europe is calling for permission for EU corporations to undercut the US emissions limits. This is the counterpart, so to speak, to the undercutting of European food standards by the US industry. A trade-off.
The European automotive groups took the lead from the outset in lobbying for the TTIP; the German chief executives put on lavish PR events at the beginning of the negotiations. Since the VW scandal they have been as quiet as mice.
So I am happy to support the export-oriented sector of our economy. If I have to weigh up which import-oriented segments I am exposing to unfair competition in the trade-off then, firstly, the national product counts and, secondly, due account must naturally also be taken of the ecological and social context.
In this specific case I am in favour of the USA keeping its strict emissions limits in place, including for European vehicles. Let’s talk about how we can restructure Europe’s automotive industry in such a way that we still have export opportunities. Norway is making a courageous move in promoting electric vehicles on a grand scale. This is a step in the right direction and should be discussed in the EU – not to break down trade barriers for diesel.
So yes, I am happy to press ahead with a constructive trade policy. TTIP and CETA are not part of it.