TTIP may be a good deal but its supporters need to communicate it more effectively

TTIP is not your typical free trade agreement. To be more precise, as one of the primary goals of the agreement is to address a range of regulatory issues between the two blocs, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being discussed by the US and the European Union is not an entirely traditional free trade agreement.

TTIP appears opaque to its opponents and that is a problem, writes Paul Adamson
TTIP appears opaque to its opponents and that is a problem, writes Paul Adamson
Indeed, with this heightened focus on regulatory co-operation – which goes significantly beyond what has been tackled in previous FTAs -– the US and EU are seeking ultimately to set standards for the global economy.

The potential benefits of TTIP are by now well-rehearsed: generating jobs and growth, cutting prices with more consumer choice and influencing world trade. 

Precise figures on the economic impact vary depending on the sources but they all point in the same positive direction.

If TTIP is such a no-brainer for badly needed economic growth, especially in Europe, why has it become so controversial? 

Clearly there is little, if any, dialogue between the anti-globalisation groups that contest free trade wherever it raises its head and the TTIP proponents.

Yet a significant number of respected civil society organisations, such as consumers groups and trades unions, state they are not against free trade. Rather they take issue essentially with what they see as a very opaque process for standards setting, with little democratic accountability, stoking fears of a 'race to the bottom'.

In response, the European Commission has gone to great lengths to make the process more transparent, but this does not yet seem to be removing the suspicion about deals being struck behind closed doors. 

On top of that, a highly misunderstood provision on investment protection (known as ISDS) has sparked controversy in Europe, with some groups claiming the protections are at the very least redundant between two such mature trading blocs.

So here are some suggestions as to how TTIP can be better understood: 

1. The pro-TTIPers need to become more fluent in the use of social media, where the anti groups seem to have a quasi monopoly.

2. Senior national politicians have to be more active in making a sustained case for TTIP (rather than leaving it all to the EU’s trade commissioner).

3. More CEOs of major corporations need to step up to the plate to explain from their and their industry’s point of view the benefits of TTIP, with specific examples and data.

4. Small and medium-sized businesses have to be heard. SMEs are widely considered to be the main business beneficiaries of TTIP as they stand to gain significantly if they can export more easily or supply to firms with similar goals.

5. The US and EU need to find ways to communicate, at least informally, concrete ways in which their discussions are producing results. This will help enormously to promote TTIP, allay fears of a 'big business conspiracy' – and galvanise some of TTIP’s supporters whose initial enthusiasm may be starting to wane.

Paul Adamson is senior European policy adviser at Covington

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