[WATCH] EU-US free trade proposal ‘threatens’ Maltese farmers

Friends of the Earth, Front Against TTIP (Malta) warn that TTIP agreement could see US food products flooding the European market, to the detriment of local and European farmers. 

Members of Friends of the Earth and Front Against TTIP stand underneath an inflatable Trojan horse.
Members of Friends of the Earth and Front Against TTIP stand underneath an inflatable Trojan horse.
Green NGOs warn TTIP could put farmers out of business • Video by Ray Attard

A proposed free trade agreement between the EU and the United States could place Maltese farmers and consumers at risk, Friends of the Earth and the Front Against TTIP (Malta) have warned.

“Maltese agriculture is already at risk and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could entirely wipe out some agricultural sectors,” Friends of the Earth project office Elena Portelli told a press conference at the Ta’ Qali Farmer’s Market, warning that US agribusinesses have been lobbying throughout the negotiations to remove trade restrictions in European farming policies.

The Maltese government and the Chamber of Commerce have both come out strongly in favour of the TTIP, with economy minister Chris Cardona forecasting that it will boost investment between Malta and the United States.

However, the environmentalists erected a huge inflatable Trojan horse at the farmers’ market to symbolize how the positive appearance of trade liberalisation between the two major blocs conceals the detriment of agriculture, environmental safety and democracy and the fresh powers that will be granted to multinational corporations. 

Pig Breeders’ Cooperative general manager Oliver Frendo warned that the TTIP risks lowering standards of meat production to the lowest possible denominator.

“The European Commission has said that EU states will not be forced to import hormonally treated meat,” Frendo said. “However, they will not be disallowed from doing so. If the market opens its doors to hormonally-treated meat, it will ultimately end up as the standard for farmers who want to remain competitive.”

He warned that the streamlining of legislation could see the EU adopt animal farming practices permitted in the US, such as growth-promoting hormones in dairy, hormone-disrupting chemicals in pork, and chlorine-rinsing of poultry – practices that are banned in Europe for health purposes.

Moreover, he pointed out that US agribusinesses work much larger stretches of land than their European counterparts, and that US states are allowed to subsidise farmers far more heavily than is permitted by EU law.

This ultimately means that US agribusinesses will be able to flood the European market with cheaper products that would represent “unfair competition” to EU and local farmers.

“The reality is that only the lowest-cost producers will survive, and that EU farmers won’t stand a chance in a food race against US farmers,” Frendo said.

Malta Organic Agricultural Movement President John Portelli warned that US agribusinesses are lobbying for the import and production of genetically modified food into the EU, products whose chemical contents have been linked with cancer.

He claimed that the laxation of GM food rules in Europe could eventually lead to such products flooding the European market, as they have done in the United States.

“Farmers will end up slaves to a few multinational companies, who will have an oligopoly over the seed market,” he said.

He also questioned whether the TTIP will see the EU adopt a looser food labeling policy, pointing out that the US doesn’t require GMO products to be labeled as such.

‘ISDS a threat to democracy’

A major bone of contention in the TTIP deal is its proposal to set up an investment-to-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) mechanism that will allow multinational corporations to settle disputes with governments through international arbitration rather than through national courts.

Critics have argued that this investment court will allow multinational companies to sue countries if government policies harm their profits, therefore conditioning governments into designing policies in a manner that will appease big business.

“The ISDS mechanism is anti-democratic,” Elena Portelli said. “It is particularly threatening to small countries like Malta, who get hit harder than most countries by fines imposed by international institutions.”