The TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), an umbrella organisation of 65 European Union and US consumer groups, has released a report criticising American and European governments for advocating business concerns over consumer concerns in their trade policies.
The consumer groups, which claim to together represent 20 million consumers, announced their findings on the first day of their annual TACD meeting in Washington this week. EU and US officials also attended.
The group said that although the governments have established a good process for hearing consumer views, specific issues showed that concern for business interests dominated over consumer opinions.
"This report card shows that both the EU and US governments have let consumers down badly," said Felix Cohen, head of the main Dutch consumer organisation and a member of the TACD steering committee. "Although the EU has made some progress, few of the recommendations made by leading consumer advocates in the US and the EU were met."Joan Claybrook, president of the US consumer group Public Citizen, added: "As a consequence, public health, consumer safety and democratic decision-making has suffered and will be threatened as new agreements and regulations are negotiated."
The consumer groups noted that both the EU and US have failed to respond to recommendations on how to safeguard consumer interest in both past and ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations on services, such as health care, education and utilities.
It also criticised the US for continuing to oppose the Precautionary Principle - the notion that when there is scientific uncertainty, governments must err on the side of caution - but commended the EU for its continued efforts to promote the Precautionary Principle in the trade agenda.
The US refusal to label genetically engineered food and to establish a mandatory safety assessment system was also attacked, and its failure to establish a system to prevent fraud and the sale of shoddy products to consumers on the Internet.
TACD added that while the EU and US have made some progress in overcoming patent restrictions that prevent AIDS patients in developing countries from receiving proper medication, more action is needed to prevent unnecessary death and suffering.
"Globalisation must benefit consumers and assure they're protected," said Rhoda Karpatkin, president emeritus of Consumers Union and also a member of the TACD steering committee. "Issues such as safe food, access to medicines and protection from fraud are critical to consumers. The governments are negotiating trade policies that favour business interests. That's wrong."