Richard North, 27/06/2013  
 


For a blogger to complain about the lack of coverage in the legacy media on a pet subject is an easy shot. Newspapers and the broadcast media can't cover everything, so they have to make choices and leave things out. Pick up the omission and there's your story: the virtuous blogger reaches parts the other media does not reach.

That said, given that David Cameron described the coming EU-US trade deal as "the biggest bilateral trade deal in history", it really is quite remarkable how quickly the issue has dropped out of the media, even though little of the detail has been explained to the public.

Interestingly, with similar trade deals at stake in Canada, the Globe and Star is complaining about the lack of coverage, although it blames the federal government for failing better to inform and educate the public about what's at stake. There is no means of knowing, of course, whether our media would cover the issue better if our government gave it a higher profile, but at the moment we are left with a wholly misleading impression, needing the China Daily to put the deal in context.

If the TTIP becomes a reality, we are told, it would reshape world trade rules, standards and patterns, thus challenging the trade alliances among emerging market economies, especially among the BRICS economies - Brazil, Russia, India. China and South Africa. 

The new rules forged by the EU and the US, it says, would doubtless raise the threshold for entry into their markets, as lower trade barriers between the EU and the US would constitute higher barriers to external economies. China's exports to the US would face competition from EU exports and its exports to the EU competition from US exports.

To deal with this new situation, we are further told, China must try and actively participate in the global FTA negotiations, and "to this end it should accelerate domestic market reforms to meet the higher standards of international trade rules". It should also "strengthen its relations with other emerging economies in order to have a stronger position in the process of making international trade rules and defending its economic interests".

This commentary underlines the fact that world trade agreements are no longer primarily – or even at all - about tariffs, but about harmonisation of regulation. Differences in regulation more than anything prevent the free trade in goods and services, and it is those countries which are more advanced in bringing their legislative codes into line with the global system that are better able to exploit international trade.

Quite how far this process has gone is still poorly understood by the majority of people, as instanced by the recent furore over the "Plant Reproductive Material Regulations", a newly revised law ostensibly of EU origin, governing trade in plant seeds and related material. 

But, as the EU's own report tells us: "The legal framework established in the EU has facilitated – if not enabled – this development, but it needs to be underlined that rules and standards have been established in a wider international context than the EU".

The EU, it adds, "is an active member in these international fora and EU rules have had considerable influence on the elaboration of international rules and standards". But, it says:
Internationally accepted standards for seed sampling and testing are developed by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) and applied in the EU by seed analysis laboratories. EU protocols for the technical examination of varieties are based on test guidelines elaborated by UPOV experts (Union Internationale pour le Protection des Obtentions Végétales); EU is member of UPOV since July 2005. Varietal identity and purity standards for the certification of PRM lots in view of their marketing are based on OECD (EU has a status of participant) seed rules and forest reproductive material control, which are also open to non OECD countries, or on UNECE standards for seed potatoes. The plant health legislation is framed in the wider context of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) … Regarding plant genetic resources, the EU is a contracting party to the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) since 2004.
The OECD as a standard-setter is an interesting addition to the list of international quasi regulators, but since 1958 it has been running a seed scheme which is open to OECD countries as well as other UN members. Now, 58 countries participate, including EU member states and the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India and Iran.

How this all fits together is admirably illustrated by a report from the US government (the Executive Office of the President) which shows how, when Russia became a member of the WTO on 22 August 2012, it undertook (and is still progressing) a massive programme of legislative harmonisation aimed at bringing its domestic law in line with the global system.

Needless to say, it is not adopting EU rules. Even the EU rules are no longer EU rules, but an amalgam of standards produced by a bewildering array of international bodies, into which Russia is also tapping.

Thus we see it, alongside the EU and the United States, committed to align its sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures with international WTO mandated standards. Through these, Russia is harmonising its sanitary and veterinary measures, including the adoption of inspection guidelines in accordance with Codex Alimentarius.

So we see, once again, our old friend Codex, playing its own part as described by Bjorn Knudtsen, Chairman of the Fish and Fisheries Product Committee, for which we now have the first cut of our video, sponsored by Peter Troy the Publicist Ltd. Unsurprisingly, the Russian Federation is a major player in the fisheries committee, having joined the international committee alongside the "little Europeans" of the EU.  

For trade rules, global government, or governance of you prefer, is with us here and now. In due course, as a standards-setting body, the EU will become redundant.  The "top tables" are moving out of Brussels and setting up shop elsewhere.

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