If EU and US press ahead with trade talks, consumers must benefit and be protected
BEUC NEWS - 13.03.2019
The European Parliament will give its opinion this week on whether the EU should start new trade talks with the United States. If the Council (Member States) follows suit and gives its green light, the European Commission will launch negotiations with the US. European consumer group networks BEUC and ANEC outline their recommendations to ensure these negotiations will protect and benefit consumers.
The EU-US trading relationship has been fraught by intense debates on tariffs. Following a joint EU-US statement to improve this situation, the partners now intend to launch trade talks.
The EU wishes to launch two separate negotiations. One aims to eliminate tariffs on 'industrial goods', which refers to all goods bar agricultural ones. The other intends to reduce costs associated with conformity assessment when exporting and importing goods across the Atlantic. In addition, the EU and the US also intend to improve the cooperation between their regulators.
If talks are to be launched between the EU and the US on these matters, we make the following recommendations:
- Eliminate tariffs to the benefit of consumers. Lower tariffs may lower the price of consumer goods, increase consumer choice and – potentially – have a positive impact on the quality of goods. However, such effects are not automatic as consumers are not the ones directly paying tariffs in most cases: importers are. Whether or not cheaper prices will materialise for consumers must be carefully assessed.
- Preserve checks and balances in conformity assessment. Reducing the cost of conformity assessment cannot be at the expense of consumer safety. The EU should guarantee the impartiality, independence and technical competence of conformity assessment bodies. Rigorous oversight must ensure all products bought on the domestic market are safe and comply with applicable standards and regulations, whatever their origin.
- Promote the consumer interest in dialogues between regulators. In a globalised context, regulators ought to cooperate to keep consumers safe and bring them benefits. That is, as long as this cooperation takes place outside trade negotiations. The primary objective of these dialogues is then to protect consumers while facilitating trade. And not the other way around.
- Ensure transparency and meaningful engagement. The public will need to know what is being negotiated on its behalf and how regulatory dialogues are progressing.