A specter is circulating in Europe — the specter of chlorinated roosters. All the nongovernmental organizations of old Europe have joined together in a holy hounding of this specter. Leftists, Greens and AfD (Alternative for Germany) are against it, as are many Social Democrats and quite a number of Christian Democrats. Churches and unions warn of it; the German consumer is afraid.
“Stop the chlorinated rooster” is the demand, which means “No” to the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. The European election fueled the campaigns against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Now, after the election, a poisoned climate remains.
The agreement would bring together the most powerful economic blocs in the world, let customs duties disappear and unify standards. This promises momentum for growth on both sides of the Atlantic, more competition, lower prices and new jobs. The Bertelsmann Foundation estimates there would be over one million additional jobs in the U.S. and more than 180,000 in Germany alone. The agreement would be worth around 100,000 billion euros for the EU.
Yet beyond these economic numbers, the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement achieves importance in terms of geopolitical considerations because Moscow and Beijing, both far more than mere regional powers, are for the moment departing from their traditional rivalry. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping have just signed long-negotiated agreements that are thoroughly throwing international energy markets into a whirl. Thirty-eight billion cubic meters of Russian gas will flow into China yearly for the next four decades. It is streaming eastward at a discounted price. But the agreement delivers an alternative option for Putin while the Europeans, due to the Ukraine crisis, are discussing reducing their energy dependence on Russia.
In a countermove, Russia is opening itself much further to Chinese investors than was ever offered to European or American firms. Chinese state-owned companies will exclusively invest in Russia’s infrastructure and aeronautics, auto production, railways and power plants.
Russian gas for China, Chinese billions for Russia — that makes it the order of the day that the EU and the U.S.A. use their still-existing edge in the marketplace to define standards for trade, the job market and consumer protection. The alternative would be to allow such parameters to be imposed by authoritarian market players like Russia and China.
Chlorine Dioxide in our Water
Yet the aforementioned chlorinated rooster has unleashed a trans-Atlantic state of shock. That the free trade agreement paves the way for the entry of American poultry, sterilized by means of chlorine dioxide, into European supermarkets is the emotional argument against the TTIP.
Chlorine dioxide is used worldwide to disinfect drinking water. Chlorides are permitted for German drinking water according to paragraph 11 of the country’s drinking water regulations. The poison-free bathing fun in local outdoor and indoor swimming pools argues against the danger of chlorine dioxide, the chemical compound of chlorine and oxygen.
Whoever finds such a handling of meat unappetizing can nonetheless be comforted. It has long been shown that the food systems of Europe and the U.S. remain excluded on account of different procedures and provisions within the agreement. Therefore, a neutral authority would have to examine whether imported meat fulfills the standards and regulations of the importing country. If the results come out negative, no import would occur.
The chlorinated rooster has become a code for the arrogant conviction of quite a few Europeans that there are generally stricter consumer protection conditions in the EU than in the U.S. TTIP would unleash a “race to the bottom,” a fall in which standards of food safety or workers’ rights would be brought to a lower level in favor of corporations. The extensive acceptance of genetically modified foods in the U.S. that are not required to be identified, unlike in the EU, is considered further proof of this theory.
Yet the prejudice behind the notion that consumer protection counts for less in America distorts a complex reality. Raw milk products, for example, go on sale without any special requirements, while the U.S. authorities warn that unpasteurized products entail a risk of exposure to germs.
The regulation of U.S. financial markets by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 also emerges as stricter in many areas than the corresponding EU regulations. That is valid also for derivatives trading. The Americans took the section on financial services out of the TTIP package for exactly the same reason the EU regulations are not strict enough. Conversely, the EU, under pressure from France, took the whole cultural section out of the free trade negotiations.
Important Geopolitical Change of Course
A free trade agreement that was originally supposed to cover all areas will now turn out to be without binding agreement in at least the sector of foodstuffs, financial services and within the cultural sphere. In addition, Germany will be responsible for the institution of arbitration in the protection of investors as an alternative to the path to regular courts being removed. More exceptions will follow.
What still remain are enough areas of alignment from which European and American — and, because of the powerful market model, all other — consumers would profit worldwide. But confidence is sinking that it will come to a close in the foreseeable future. Midterm elections to Congress are in mid-November, and it is unclear whether the Republicans will subsequently grant the president a success in such an agreement in his last two years in the White House. In Europe, on the other hand, national governments are bringing contrary detailed interests into the negotiations. One doesn’t always have the impression that Angela Merkel, disappointed in Barack Obama over the NSA scandal, is fighting for the free trade agreement as the first among equals with more blood, sweat and tears than him.
And then there is still the chlorinated rooster that has contaminated public opinion and threatens to block an economic, as well as geopolitically important change of course for the world. Reason and realpolitik have currently been left behind.