Christian Schmidt, the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), is endeavouring to conclude a free trade agreement with the U.S.A. that will open up export opportunities without eroding the level of consumer protection that exists in Germany.
"I do not see any reason why we shouldn't succeed in safeguarding both economic prospects and consumer protection," said Minister Schmidt in Berlin. "The elimination of trade barriers can open up new prospects for both the economy and consumers. This is subject to the proviso that our achievements in the field of food security are not put at stake." He emphasised that, after all, it was the high quality and preventive consumer protection across all processing stages that made European products export hits.
The BMEL issued an invitation to a workshop on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the U.S.A. (TTIP). With representatives from the European Commission and the U.S.A. present, approximately 70 participants from politics, business, media and associations had the opportunity to gain first-hand information on the negotiations and to learn more about the standards of protection in the U.S.A. and in Europe. The negotiations on a European-American free trade agreement have been ongoing since July 2013. The 7th round of negotiations was held from 29 September 2014 to 3 October 2014 in the U.S.A. It is intended to conclude the negotiations by the end of 2015.
In his welcoming address, Minister Schmidt emphasized that he took seriously consumer fears that TTIP could water down Europe's food-safety standards and undermine consumers' need for information. He asserted: "This is not open to negotiation". "Our utmost priority is the safety and quality of the products. Everybody exporting food to Europe needs to comply with our European standards for food production; this is the situation now and it will remain so in the future." He stated that, as chief negotiator, the European Commission did not have the mandate to renegotiate these standards.
Against this backdrop, Minister Schmidt pushed for a more objective debate. He stated that a laissez-faire attitude was just as inappropriate as scaremongering.
By concluding a free trade agreement with the U.S., the BMEL hopes to open up new opportunities for the agri-food industry that will secure value creation and employment in rural regions.
Minister Schmidt's view is that a free trade agreement between the EU and the U.S. can only be successful if it finds wide support among the public on both sides of the Atlantic. "If the public is to accept this agreement, it is necessary to create as much transparency as possible. Communication between the trading partners that aims at information and transparency could dissipate a number of concerns," Minister Schmidt said. "We need to convince people that American legislation also wants to safeguard consumer protection, but that every country needs to decide for itself which rules it adopts to protect its citizens."