By Ching-Fu Lin
In a congressional letter last month, 76 House Members urged United States (US) Trade Representative Michael Froman to push for strong and enforceable sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). SPS measures – which have been viewed as an area with very little room for convergence between the two sides – cover animal health, plant health, and food safety law and regulation. The differences are evidenced by previous politically salient disputes over hormone-treated beef, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and more recently, ractopamine in pork. Indeed, given the cultural and institutional divergences between the US and the European Union (EU) food safety regulatory systems, many doubt the possibility that TTIP can come up with an SPS chapter (or an SPS-Plus chapter) that strikes a proper balance between public health and international trade.
As noted by some commentators, given the relatively low tariffs between the EU and US, the chief focus will center upon reducing non-tariff barriers to trade in numerous sectors, including agricultural products, biotechnology, and food safety regulation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also established a special public health and trade team within its Office of International Programs to take a more active role in the negotiation. Yet the negotiation over such a “sensitive” area has been considered unpromising—transatlantic deadlock, cooperation failure, and several deal breakers (especially regarding GMOs)—because the differences in food safety regulation between the US and EU seem not only significant but also persistent.
However, the outlook may not be as pessimistic as the common understanding.