The former head of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, said Thursday that improved consumer protection was at the heart of the controversial US-European Union free-trade pact under negotiation.
Lamy insisted that 80 percent of the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal with harmonization of consumer protection standards, while only 20 percent focus on such typical trade issues as tariffs and market access.
Political leaders' failure to explain that to the public had created a vacuum that allowed anti-TTIP movements to grow, he told the Worldwide Symposium of the Foreign Trade Advisors of France in Miami.
Political leaders "up to now have not been handling it well," Lamy said. "Everyone in Europe thinks they're going to be forced to eat chlorine-rinsed chicken, or in the United States, cheese rotting with bacteria."
"The solution is to say, once and for all, that the goal is to harmonize protection," starting with the more accessible issues.
Lamy cited as an example the automobile: "It's to harmonize car crash tests so that European cars don't have small bumpers and American cars big bumpers, but that everyone has medium-sized bumpers because that yields significant economies of scale, which isn't very complicated."
Hundreds of demonstrations were held in April, mainly in Europe, against free trade and the TTIP. In Germany, Europe's largest economy, 43 percent of the people think the US-EU trade deal would be "bad" for their country, according to a recent survey.
Lamy, who was director-general of the WTO from 2005 to 2013, advised leaders to spell out the intent of the ambitious plan to create the world's largest free-trade zone, covering a market of 850 million consumers.
"It must be explained that it involves, little by little, converging the levels (of protection) because it is good for everyone, as long as it makes them higher and not lower."
He agreed that several issues appear to be more difficult to resolve because of cultural differences between the US and Europe, such as genetically modified organisms in food and other products, and the protection of private data.
The TTIP negotiations have not neared an end after two years. Negotiators wound up the ninth round of talks on April 24 in New York. No date has been set for the next round, which will be held in Brussels.