This Saturday there will be a Global Day of Action against free trade deals
As Britain’s political parties launch their manifestos ahead of the May election, it’s not hard to pick holes in the claims of David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
Under either party there will be no reversal of the austerity that has brought so much suffering to so many, and Labour now seem likely to agree with the Tories that further cuts are required.
Less discussed is another important position both parties share – that we need an extension of the ‘free trade’ agenda that the global economic elites have been promoting for decades. One of the most significant aspects of this is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a secretive trade deal between the US and EU with enormous implications for our societies.
But TTIP is, in fact, just one among a raft of current trade deals being negotiated by groups of states across the world: we’re also facing the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Together, these deals represent an attempt to re-engineer the global economy – a huge corporate power grab at the public expense.
And that’s why this Saturday 18 April there will be a Global Day of Action against free trade deals from those seeking a different world, with more than four hundred actions across five continents. In the UK, the main focus of actions will be TTIP, with over 25 actions taking place across the country, including a major of action in London, ‘Day of Dissent: Democracy vs TTIP’.
Here are four reasons to get involved:
1) To defend democracy from corporate power
In the UK campaigners have been working to investigate and expose TTIP on a range of fronts. By aiming to harmonise regulatory standards in the EU and the US, TTIP threatens to undermine crucial protections on food safety and environmental protection. It also threatens to undermine democracy by giving corporations the right to sue governments (in secret corporate courts) when their expected profits are threatened, just as Philip Morris is trying to do to the Uruguayan government for introducing plain packaging on cigarettes. And it’s being negotiated in extreme secrecy, limiting the scope for democratic oversight by the public and even elected politicians.
But TTIP is not alone in these respects. At the World Social Forum in Tunisia last month I met campaigners working on TISA, which is currently being negotiated by 50 countries. This agreement aims to ‘liberalise’ the services sector, constraining the role of government in delivering and regulating services – including education, healthcare, water and sanitation. In place of government, corporations are to be given greater access to these aspects of our lives – meaning that TISA is in effect a charter for privatisation.
Similar stories apply to the other free trade deals we are currently facing, such as TPP and CETA. In all cases, the governing principle is that of extending the reach of the market – the flipside of which is limiting the power of the people to demand government action in the public interest.
Put more bluntly, these trade deals are an affront to democracy.
2) A global offensive requires a global response
This slew of trade deals can be seen as a global corporate offensive – indeed, they are backed by networks of think tanks and lobby groups funded and staffed by some of the world’s most powerful corporations. So to defeat them, we need to coordinate our own actions globally.
The day of action this Saturday is a prime opportunity to do this. Last year we saw first national, and then European, days of action against TTIP; as a global day of action which connects all the trade deals that threaten us, 18 April represents a powerful statement of international coordination and solidarity.
3) To build on our successes far
While Saturday’s actions are a way to strengthen the international dimension of our movement, they’re also an opportunity to build on a series of successes in the campaign against TTIP. Grassroots activism has meant that the Europe-wide petition against TTIP has now reached over 1.6 million signatures (if you haven’t signed yet, do so here). A growing number of local authorities and student unions have been passing motions against TTIP declaring ‘TTIP free zones’. And just last week in Scotland, a new national coalition against TTIP was launched.
And there are cracks emerging in the political establishment, too. In the UK, a recent MPs’ report squarely challenged the government’s primary argument for TTIP that it will boost the UK economy, arguing that it is ‘impossible at this stage to quantify those benefits in any meaningful way’. Likewise, the German minister for the economy said just a few days ago that he ‘cannot believe in the wondrous calculations for economic growth from TTIP’. And, since TTIP is likely to require ratification from all EU member states, it’s significant that the newly elected Syriza government in Greece has declared that it will refuse to ratify TTIP.
Saturday therefore represents an opportunity to take the campaign against TTIP to another level, to make its chances of being passed increasingly untenable – and in the process, strengthen all the campaigns against this global trade offensive.
4) To intervene in the election
Lastly, let’s go back to the election context in the UK. The manifestos of the major parties make it clear that they’re on the wrong side of this issue. The Conservatives ‘will push for freer global trade, concluding major trade deals with the US, India and Japan and reinvigorating the World Trade Organisation.’ Despite caveats, the core of Labour’s position is ‘support [for] the principles behind the negotiations’ on TTIP. The SNP have yet to publish their manifesto, but though they have been voicing concerns about TTIP, they remain supportive of a deal in principle. And the Lib Dems are clear that don’t merely support TTIP – they want an ‘ambitious’ version of the deal.
In this context, where none of the most powerful parties are opposing TTIP outright, the only way to get a genuine debate going is if we force the issue on the agenda. For us in the UK, supported by our allies across the world, that must be our priority.
That way we can send a clear message that our vision of a ‘good life’ in which working families succeed cannot include trade deals which threaten our social protections and rights, our public services and, indeed, our right to democratic control of our societies.
Ed Lewis is groups officer at Global Justice Now