THE BLOG

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Could Bring Huge Consumer Benefit

03/03/2014 11:40 GMT | Updated 02/05/2014 10:59 BST

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) doesn't sound like something that would set the pulse racing but I believe that a deal to create a free trade area between the EU and the USA could bring huge benefits for consumers.

The cost of living is one of the hottest political issues right now. The latest consumer tracking from Which? shows eight million households are cutting back on essentials. So anything that can put pressure on prices and give consumers more choice is something to be applauded.

It has been estimated that reaching an agreement could boost the EU economy, through growth and job creation, by £99 billion per year - that's £475 per household, hardly an amount to be sniffed at!

Reducing, or better still completely eliminating, import tariffs will make a huge difference when you shop on the high street or online.

Goods are subject to an average tariff of 4%. However some items have much higher tariffs. Cars from the USA, for example, have extra costs of up to 10%, clothes up to 12% and TVs as much as 14%.

High street shops, like department stores and outlets of American chains, have to pay this duty so every pair of US-imported jeans or trainers you purchase in the UK will cost you more than when you're buying the same items in the States. The same is true in reverse, hitting exporters.

The TTIP could change all that - and as a result of these changes, consumers would see prices fall.

It's important that any deal can be seen by people to be tangibly beneficial to them. For that reason I would also like to see a significant rise in personal import allowances.

At the moment anything bought online from the US that costs more than £135 is hit with charges. Raising this limit could give direct trade and e-commerce a significant shot in the arm, at a time when our fragile recovery needs it most.

It is a crazy situation when buying a pair of designer jeans in New York worth more than £135 and bringing them home on the plane would cost nothing in duty. However, sitting in the comfort of your own home and buying them online could get you hit with charges.

Raising the personal allowance for import duty limits to match those imposed on holiday makers and business travellers would make a massive difference and democratise trade. This would help not just online shoppers but also small businesses which face these extra charges.

The TTIP deal is also an opportunity to identify and remove regulatory duplication where the outcomes are the same. Is it efficient to import an American car, tested to US safety standards, only for it to be required to be tested to EU criteria as well? This should also keep pressure on prices for consumers.

There are sceptical voices who say the TTIP deal presents a threat to consumers. Provided the Government and the Commission honour their promises to prevent this being used as a Trojan horse to reduce hard-won protections in the fields of environmental, food safety, consumers' and workers' rights, however, I am convinced this deal could be ground-breaking in its positive impact.

If the cost of living is truly important to politicians, then the TTIP must be supported at the highest levels of Government - and consumers' interests must be at the very core.

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