Creating a Progressive West With the TTIP

06/25/2015 02:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

The TTIP should be more than just a tool to raise corporate profits -- it should embody a new world order predicated on shared values between the US and Europe.

By Igor Mitschka, Yale

The revelation came in mid February. I knew why I considered myself European when students, together with EU policy-makers and faculty, gathered at the Yale School of Management to develop ideas for the future of the European Union. Taking part in the conference, I realized, I do not consider myself European just because I was born in Vienna. It's not because I speak several foreign languages, either, or because I know what Eurovision is. Rather, I concluded, I am European because I believe in the vision that the European Union engenders--the vision of a region where diversity, human rights and social market economy create a thriving society.

When it comes to sharing and realizing this vision for society, America is Europe's closest ally.

At the European Student Conference, I asked participants about the role of our common vision in the current efforts to forge the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. TTIP could become the largest free trade zone, as it would harmonize standards and regulation in the two already richest economies of the world. While much has been said about TTIP's role with regard to genetically modified organisms, cars and medicine, the three cornerstones of our common vision - diversity, human rights and social market economy - have figured little in the discussions around TTIP so far.

The Chief Negotiator of the TTIP, Ignacio Garcia-Bercero, and the former WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, shared a clear assessment with us at the conference: Realistically, the TTIP will be limited to economic and trade-related areas. I believe, however, that limiting the TTIP to trade-related areas is a tactical mistake, and a lost opportunity. TTIP should bring about a transatlantic convergence towards our shared societal values.

For the TTIP to become a publically accepted agreement, negotiators need to create full mutual trust between Americans and Europeans. The TTIP is about declaring that we are so similar to each other that we are willing to buy each other's drugs, eat each other's food and trade in each other's financial products without regulatory impediments. Clearly, one makes such a commitment only if one considers the other side to be a trustworthy partner. However, one becomes a trustworthy partner not only by agreeing on how to treat our medication, food and derivatives. Trustworthy partners must also agree on how we treat one another, as people. A deal that does not address shared societal values will not create full mutual trust and will likely not get public acceptance. Thus, let us talk about how we can bring diversity, human rights and social market economy into the TTIP.

At the European Student Conference, we discussed several student policy-papers about convergence towards shared values. One policy-paper calls for common labor standards, especially regarding worker protection and worker representation. We need to agree not only on safe product standards, but also on safe process standards. Moving towards common positions on the right to paid sick leave and paid vacation as well as collective bargaining means to level the playing field for producers in our economies. Most of all, instituting strong labor standards means having full trust in each other's goods and services. Let me repeat: Trust is the basis on which we should build TTIP, and trust is the message the TTIP should carry to our people. No trade agreement can embody full trust if it does not address labor standards.

A second proposal made by the conference affects environmental protection and asks for a transatlantic carbon credit system. The European Union already has a strong Emissions Trading System. Several industry sectors, including airlines and power plants, buy and trade their carbon emissions. Reducing the cap annually by at least 1.74% helps the European Union achieve climate goals. The United States should follow suit by establishing a similar, or even more ambitious, carbon trading system through the TTIP. This policy will eradicate comparative advantages that are based on environmental degradation. Furthermore, instituting a transatlantic Emissions Trading System will make a value statement. We will set the standard that integrated free trade zones in modern times commit themselves to fighting climate change.

The third regulatory convergence that I believe the largest free trade zone in the world should undertake concerns gender equality. Comparing the life in America and the EU to life in other parts of the world, I notice that what unites Transatlantica is a certain agreement on gender equality. Women enjoy equal rights, lead companies, and direct politics. Granted, challenges remain, but it is here where the TTIP can send another strong message to ourselves and the rest of the world: Modern free trade agreements should embrace gender equality, by binding government procurement to woman empowerment. Government procurement in the USA and the EU makes up for a massive chunk of GDP (between 12 and 15 percent), and the TTIP might provide equal access to all Euro-American private bidders for public deals. Our two unions could use this opportunity to require that publically listed companies must have, let's say, at least 50% women in their supervisory boards to get publically funded deals. Totally unrealistic, you think? Well, not quite. The European Commission strives to request similar woman quotas in publically listed companies through a new EU Directive anyways. And Americans are likely to send feminist Hillary Clinton into the White House in 2016. This seems like a perfect opportunity to make woman empowerment a social focus of the TTIP.

The TTIP has the potential to boost our economies. It will set standards and regulation for decades to come, and for other countries to follow. This is an opportunity to show the rest of the world, and to prove to us, that the West is not only about making money, but rather about making money in a sustainable and fair, socially productive, manner. We must not squander this opportunity. Converging on shared values around diversity, human rights and social market economy will demonstrate to citizens on both sides of the Pond that we are each others' natural ally, a partner worth trusting. Once we have created the basis for full trust, the TTIP will get the public support it deserves. So Transatlantica, be ambitious!

Igor Mitschka is founder and director of "European Horizons." European Horizons is a new student think-tank created at the European Student Conference at the Yale School of Management in February 2015. Igor was born in Vienna, Austria, and graduated and studied Political Science at Yale.