What do Americans Think of TTIP? They Don’t

von Nicole Raz / 19.10.2015

For all of the upheaval in Europe and especially Austria over a possible trade deal with the US, TTIP is not a topic up for public discussion in the United States; many Americans haven’t even heard of it. American Economics Reporter Nicole RazDie US-amerikanische Radio- und Multimediajournalistin Nicole Raz ist im September und Oktober als US-Austrian Journalism Exchange Fellow bei NZZ.at und wird insbesondere die Wirtschaftsberichterstattung bereichern. took a closer look on the public perception of the agreement within the US.

“Nobody knows what TTIP is,” says Bruce Stokes, the Pew Research Center’s director of global economic attitudes. “Unlike in Europe, where there are mass rallies in Brussels or Berlin or Vienna against TTIP, there are some activist here who are kind of interested in this, but nobody is following it.”

YouGov poll, March 30 – April 1, 2015

There are several organizations and labor unions in the US that are following TTIP on behalf of their members. As in Europe, the little known about TTIP is receiving mixed greetings. 

1. The Response from Unions

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) is a federation of international labor unions and is the largest federation of unions in the United States. The federation has released several cautious but positive statements regarding TTIP.

“The AFL-CIO believes that increasing ties with the EU could be beneficial for both American and European workers as with all trade agreements the rules matter,” the union said in a statement. “Generally speaking, both regions have advanced economies, high national incomes and well-developed legal and regulatory regimes designed to protect the environment and defend workers’ rights. And in many respects, the European nations’ social programs to protect families and the environment exceed those of U.S. laws and regulations—and any U.S.-EU agreement must not be used as a tool to deregulate or drive down these higher standards. If that is the goal, working families of both regions will pay the price.”

The AFL-CIO has also voiced opposition to the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS), with the stated purpose of protecting foreign investors from economic harm caused by host-government actions or policies and offers foreign-invested companies to sue host governments in third-party arbitration. 

“Because systems of justice should be public, democratic and available to all in a society on an equal basis, the very existence of ISDS is anathema to democracy. Moreover, in recent years the system as become a ‘profit center’ for global corporations to seek compensation in exchange for a nation’s right to direct.”

2. The Response from Consumer-Rights Activists

Public Citizen, a US consumer rights advocacy group, has not explicitly opposed TTIP (as it has TPP) but the group has come out against TTIP’s possible outcomes and the process of free trade negotiations.

“TAFTA negotiations focus on demands by large corporations on both sides of the Atlantic to remove consumer and environmental safeguards that they dub as ‘trade irritants,’” Public Citizen said in a statement. “TAFTA rules are being negotiated behind closed doors. About 600 official U.S. corporate trade advisors are being provided access to documents and decision-makers, while the public and press are locked out.”

Public Citizen has railed against the ISDS as well as voiced opposition to possible rollbacks on financial reforms, and other potential costs to consumers and the environment.

Other organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach and some experts see TTIP as an opportunity to elevate the standard negotiating processes and discussions surrounding trade deals.

Jacques Pelkmans, a senior research fellow with the Center for European Policy Studies, and Peter Chase, Vice President for Europe at the US Chamber of Commerce, have said TTIP poses an opportunity for regulatory cooperation between the EU and the US to help regulators become more efficient in protecting their citizens.

“Done properly, regulatory coherence and cooperation under TTIP will enhance regulatory efficiency and effectiveness, increasing consumer safety even as it improves the competitiveness of US and EU firms,” Pelkmans and Chase wrote in a paper. “While the breadth and depth of US-EU regulatory cooperation has been growing, it tends to be technical, and thus known only to those directly engaged in the sectors concerned. Because of this, many outside these areas tend to be skeptical – and at times outright critical – of the cooperation. This may underscore the need for a more basic understanding of what regulatory cooperation is and should be about between the United States and the European Union.”

3. The Response from US Media

Other than experts or professionals following the US-EU trade negotiations, most Americans have not even heard of TTIP—likely because the trade negotiations of any sort mostly go uncovered by US’ mainstream media.

A study by Media Matters for America, a media monitoring and watchdog organization, found that US media tend to largely ignore historic trade negotiations – including TPP.

A Media Matters transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC's World News Tonight, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Washington-based think tank Institute for Policy Studies, says there’s a reason for that.

“Trade negotiations are extraordinarily boring,” Feffer told NZZ.at. “It’s very difficult for the media to cover any trade negotiations. They only become of interest if there’s a fight.”

It’s a toss-up whether TTIP will gain more traction within the US. Although unions have made statements, a trade deal with Europe isn’t as large of a threat to American unions as trade deals with less wealthy countries.

“For the most part, Europeans get paid better; so there is less of a chance of capital flight and loss of additional US manufacturing jobs,” Feffer said.

As the trade negotiations continue, there is ample opportunity for certain industry sectors, for instance auto or agriculture manufacturers, to become peeved and attract media attention.

Even then, it is difficult to determine whether such a debate would spark the type of water-cooler conversations about TTIP that is seen in Europe.