U.S. labor and environmental groups, largely silent in the run-up to the U.S.-Europe free-trade talks, now say they worry that the negotiations could be used to weaken consumer, health and other standards on both sides of the Atlantic.
Talks over what could become the world’s largest free-trade zone officially began Monday in Washington, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman telling negotiators from the United States and Europe that they were poised “to complement one of the greatest alliances of all time with an equally compelling economic relationship.”
The United States and the European Union are the world’s largest trading partners. Although goods, services and capital flow with relative ease between the two sides, officials think they can add hundreds of billions of dollars to the bottom line by better coordinating regulations and streamlining the different bureaucracies that regulate matters such as auto safety, pharmaceuticals and food.
As the U.S. and E.U. economies struggle to boost growth, activist groups said Monday that they worry that the compulsion on both sides will be to push toward lower regulation — with the United States trying to undercut generally more restrictive food and chemical rules in Europe, and the Europeans trying to tear down government procurement restrictions that favor U.S. companies and to weaken U.S. financial rules that impose new restrictions on European banks.