The Phaserl



by Celia Wexler, Who What Why:

It reportedly took German Chancellor Angela Merkel eleven times to disabuse President Donald Trump of the notion that he could do a trade deal with Germany. She repeatedly told him that a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Germany was not possible since Germany was a member of the European Union (EU). Finally, Trump understood and seemed interested in restarting negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed pact between the US and all 28 EU countries, which he had opposed as a candidate.

We thought this story on TTIP’s potential threats to public health and safety and the environment on both sides of the Atlantic is worth a second look. Under Trump, the dangers of a revived TTIP may be even greater, in light of this administration’s efforts to weaken consumer-protection regulations and to defund federal regulatory agencies across the board.

In 1960, one courageous Food and Drug Administration official refused to approve a drug that had already been used widely abroad. Frances Kelsey insisted she needed more information before she could be satisfied it was safe. The drug maker accused her of being a petty bureaucrat. But Kelsey was right to be cautious. That drug was thalidomide and pregnant women who took the sedative gave birth to thousands of children with terrible birth defects in Europe, the UK, Canada, and the Middle East. Because of Kelsey’s vigilance, however, America was spared that tragedy.

If the US and EU agree on a new trade deal in the works — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — it would be very difficult for one watchdog on either side of the Atlantic to have the same life-saving impact.

Instead, business interests would wield far greater influence on the quality of our food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides, and the presence of toxic chemicals in our environment. It would be very difficult for any regulator to resist that corporate influence, or to buck the collective judgment of more compliant regulators in other countries.

How corporations will wield that influence is suggested in the fine print of trade proposals advanced by the US Trade Representative (USTR) and strongly endorsed by the international business community.

The proposed trade deal would affect 820 million consumers, and thousands of the corporations doing business in the 28 EU countries and the United States.

It should come as no surprise  that the agreement has been largely shaped by business interests. As The Washington Post reported in 2014, 85 percent of the individuals serving as trade advisors to the USTR represented either corporations or business trade groups.

Americans may have grown used to trade deals dominated by multinational corporations, such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been in effect since 1994). This deal, however, is focused not on trade barriers like tariffs, but on regulations — rules that health, safety and environmental advocates call “public protections” and that businesses term “trade irritants.”

My experience on the trade deal came through my work as a public-interest lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which I left one month ago. UCS did not take a position on trade per se, but actively opposed efforts in Congress to make it much more difficult for government agencies to use science to inform their regulations, without fear of political or corporate influence.

Tom Donohue, Michael Froman

US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue, and US Trade Representative Michael Froman  Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from and

The US Chamber of Commerce has made regulatory “coherence” a huge part of its agenda. The Chamber and the USTR both insist that more collaborative rule-making between the US and EU could save companies the costs of complying with two sets of rules, and could make the entire process work more effectively, without harming public health and safety and the environment.

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