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By John Higgins, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE

If the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was all about dumbing down our consumer protection standards to allow big American corporations to charge in and flog us more of their wares, then I’d be with the protesters who came out to oppose the trade agreement at the weekend.

But it isn’t.  It’s about removing the sort of red tape that serves no consumer purpose, but has been put in place to discourage competition from abroad.

The aim of this trade agreement is to make it easier for European companies to do business in the US and vice versa.  The trade agreement would boost the EU economy by an estimated €120 billion and the US by around €90 billion.

That means more jobs and a much-needed boost to economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic. As Europe teeters on the edge of another economic downturn we can’t afford to reject such an opportunity out of hand, as the protesters appear to be proposing.

The benefits of an agreement would be felt most by small companies that are least able to navigate the obstacles, which take the form of tariffs, taxes, as well as complex rules and regulations.

The debate about the TTIP has become heated, and much of the concerns expressed in Europe give a distorted impression that Europe needs protection from the ‘anything goes’ mentality in the US.

The fact is that the US has just as much, if not more red tape obstructing foreign firms from competing locally as Europe. Red tape such as US taxes on the import of Danish pastries from Denmark, tariffs on imported canned artichokes from Spain, and complex customs form filling for German piano makers.

The TTIP aims to get rid of these hurdles plus many more that are effectively keeping European firms both large and small from thriving in the US market.

In the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the TTIP could allow for faster adoption of innovative products and services with universal benefits.

For example, both sides of the Atlantic are looking how to ensure that ICTs including websites, mobile phones, computers etc are accessible to people with impaired vision or hearing. Wouldn’t it make sense for both markets to adopt the same rules and standards, since disabled people the world over face the same challenges?

New emerging areas of technology such as eHealth, including health monitoring apps for mobile phones and tablet computers , would develop much faster if companies could target a larger market with their products and services.

Similarly, both the EU and the US are seeing more and more products with so-called e-Labels – miniature electronic screens showing that the product confirms with the required safety standards.

Wouldn’t it make sense if the two markets adopted the same standards for e-Labelling? It would save companies both big and small a lot of money if they didn’t have to adopt different labels for each market, and at the same time it would provide consumers with better, more up-to-date information about the products they buy – a win-win for companies and consumers alike.

The trick with the TTIP will be to open up markets while maintaining the safeguards consumers on both sides of the Atlantic expect. Protesters against the trade talks claim that reaching such a balance is impossible. That’s not true.

And what’s more, with our economies suffering from a prolonged downturn, neither side can afford not to engage in this effort to liberalize trade across the Atlantic. It may sound repetitive, but amid such hostility to the talks it’s worth reminding European citizens that this deal is all about job creation and stimulating economic growth.

 

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