Consumer advocates fear US free trade agreement

Relaxing trade regulations could force Europe to accept practices they are opposed to, worry watchdogs

As ministers from European Union member states meet today to discuss a possible free trade agreement with the US, consumer organisations here in Denmark say that they fear that a trade agreement could end up weakening consumer rights.

Benedicte Federspiel, the lead consultant for Forbrugerrådet, a consumer watchdog, argued that a prospective free trade agreement could compromise existing consumer-right protection mechanisms.

“We risk catastrophic consequences and we are very worried about the lack of transparency,” Federspiel told Politiken newspaper. “An agreement with the US could significantly weaken vested interests and precautions that protect consumers in Europe.”

Forbrugerrådet warns, as does European consumer organisation group BEUC, that a deal with the US could endanger everything from online medicine purchase to food products because Europeans and Americans have organised themselves differently in a number of areas.

And even if the organisations support a free trade agreement in principal, they are afraid the EU will be forced to products and practices they are opposed to, such as chickens rinsed in chlorine during processing, which is not permitted in Europe. Conversely, the Americans are afraid that a deal will put pressure on their new financial market regulations.

“The trade negotiations will influence just about every aspect of our lives. Data protection, food product safety and medicinal products concern more than just businesses and lawmakers,” Monique Goyens, the secretary general of BEUC, told Politiken.

Consumer organisations are concerned in part because recent revelations revealed that the US government was successful in weakening the European data protection laws.

But despite this, the European Commission has assured consumer organisations that existing EU regulations will be abided by.

“Consumer protection is essential and European law will be abided by and respected 110 percent. We can’t be any clearer on that issue,” John Clancy, a spokesperson for the European trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, told Politiken.

While the trade minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr (Socialistisk Folkeparti), recently estimated that a free trade agreement with the US could increase exports by up to 25 billion kroner and create up to 25,000 jobs, she admitted ”there are issues to sort out”.

On Monday the EU and the US will meet at the G8 meetings in Northern Ireland and they hope to be able to begin the free trade agreement negotiations then.





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