US and German consumer organisations set out new approaches for international trade deals

BEUC NEWS - 17.02.2017

US consumer rights advocacy Public Citizen released a video in which they outline a new approach to negotiate global trade deals. A good moment to reflect on why we need to change the ‘trade’ mantra and ensure trade works for consumers.

 

Modern trade agreements deal with more than just ‘trade’ – they focus on differences in rules between countries. This can impact consumer protection. Why? Because these differences in rules – on our food labelling, for example – could be attacked as barriers to international trade.

It’s important that EU negotiators are aware that consumer protection laws must not be interpreted as barriers. They are there to benefit society as a whole.

Making sure globalisation works for consumers

In this video, Lori Wallach – director of our US partner Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch – defines “new rules of the road that capture the benefits of expanded trade without undermining our democracy and all the safeguards in which our families rely”.

Jared Bernstein, a former economist to US Vice-President Joe Biden, says “It’s actually very important to distinguish between trade agreements and trade or globalisation. Globalisation is going to occur whether we like it or not and the key is making sure it works for working people and consumers, and not just for corporate interests”. 

How to ensure consumers are protected in trade agreements

On our side of the pond, consumer organisations join this call for change in trade policy.

Consumer protection does not really feature in trade negotiations, as research of German consumer group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (vzbv) shows. For example, “[e]xplicit consumer interests like the right to information or the right to privacy are only weakly enshrined”.

This is problematic as modern trade agreements cover lots of rule-making areas that will directly impact consumers. It is therefore vital that trade negotiators involve experts from all involved policy areas, and negotiate agreements that guarantee the highest level of consumer protection.

Here are vzbv’s suggestions on how this can be done:

  • Include “consumer protection” in the objectives of trade agreements
  • Make exception clauses encompass “consumer protection”
  • Include a chapter on “trade and consumer” in trade agreements
  • Implement and expand best-practices in future trade agreements

 

Public Citizen, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (vzbv) and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) work together on transatlantic EU-US consumer rights via the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD).