GTW Comments to U.S. International Trade Commission; Pre-Hearing Brief on Methodological Questions Relating to the USITC Investigation Concerning the Proposed Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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Public Citizen welcomes the opportunity to provide written comment on the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) investigation entitled “U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement: Advice on the Probable Economic Effect of Providing Duty-Free Treatment for Imports” in advance of USITC’s public hearing on June 5, 2013. Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit public interest organization with more than 300,000 members and supporters that champions citizen interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the courts. We have conducted extensive analysis on the economic impacts and implications of existing U.S. trade and investment agreements, the expansive model of trade and investment terms that the Obama administration has pursued in the Trans-Pacific Partnership “Free Trade” Agreement (FTA), and the likely impacts of the U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) if it were to be based on such an approach.

While the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) requested USITC to study the projected effect “of providing duty-free treatment for imports of products from all of the EU member states,” the TAFTA negotiations will not focus primarily on tariffs, but on “regulatory and other non-tariff barriers,” according to the joint U.S.-EU announcement of the intent to launch negotiations. The decision to concentrate on “behind-the-border” policies stems from the Parties’ acknowledgement that tariffs between the United States and EU are “already quite low.” With regard to non-tariff measures (NTMs), USTR requested that USITC “assume that any known U.S. nontariff barrier will not be applicable to such imports.” This USTR request asks the USITC to design a study based on a foreseeably implausible outcome of U.S.-EU negotiations: assuredly such negotiations will not result in the removal of all known U.S. NTMs. This is particularly true when one considers what USTR deems to be an NTM. Using USTR’s annual National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers as guide, removal of all NTMs would require both the United States and EU to abandon a vast swath of health, environmental, food and product safety, energy, financial, and other public interest safeguards that can be construed under USTR’s broad notion to be “nontariff barriers.” Even if this were politically feasible, which it is not, certainly such an unthinkable assault on essential protections for consumers, workers and the environment would not be the Obama administration’s agenda.