Two international trade agreements are currently being secretly negotiated. If ratified they will threaten our freedoms
Would you like more surveillance on the Internet? How about large corporations suing governments for enacting laws to protect the environment but that might harm their profits? Or labour rights being eroded?
At present, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is hurriedly being negotiated in secret. Many people in the UK still haven’t even heard of it, but it is an affront to democracy and will have far-reaching consequences if ratified.
TTIP, and the similar TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), are large trade agreements between groups of countries in the Atlantic and Pacific regions respectively. TTIP directly affects Europe as it is between the EU and the US.
The argument is that they will promote trade by removing tariffs. The less-advertised objective is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’. Among others, these ‘barriers’ include food safety laws, digital privacy laws, labour rights, restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals and new banking safeguards applied following the financial crash of 2008.
According to recent research by Corporate Europe Observatory and 38 Degrees, 88 per cent of the European Commission’s behind-closed-doors meetings have been with corporate lobby groups, compared with 9 per cent with public interest groups. This is out of a total of 597 meetings.
Green Party MEP, Molly Scato, wrote of her outrage that a June vote on TTIP was pulled at the last minute when it looked like, in defiance of its leadership, the EU parliament was going to put on record either its opposition to important elements, or even to TTIP as a whole. MEPs’ resistance had grown due to the unprecedented number of emails they had received from concerned European citizens along with a petition against it signed by nearly 2.5 million Europeans.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a leading non-profit organisation of international technologists, activists and attorneys defending civil liberties in the digital world. Maira Sutton works as Global Policy Analyst for the EFF in California:
“TTIP is too broad in terms of countries participating but also issues covered. A lot of compromises and trade-offs occur in the background of the secret negotiations. For example, if Vietnam or Italy have a strong textile industry and a powerful lobby group they will end up surrendering protections for the environment or copyright protections in return for market access to the US. They are bargaining away a lot of regulations that should be decided transparently and democratically.”
Excuses justifying these agreements are that they will create jobs and boost economies. However, projected figures used to justify past trade agreements, such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), signed in 1992, have fallen far short of the growth promised and been drastically revised down.
One of the ways in which countries are already giving up their sovereignty to corporations in existing trade agreements is through a disturbing mechanism called the ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), currently included in TTIP. Bypassing domestic courts and parliamentary laws, it permits corporations to sue governments before secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers if they introduce regulations or deny actions that might affect companies’ profits.
The question is: why would governments be complicit in ceding power to corporations? Maira of the EFF:
“There is a revolving door between industries and government. Take the US trade representative, Michael Froman, who got $4m as his exit package from Citigroup; that’s just one example of situations where the people who are negotiating these agreements had either positions at these companies or are friendly with them.”
Politicians around the world are entwined with and lobbied by the same industries
Maira sees this as symptomatic of a wider problem:
“These agreements are another reflection of how democracy isn’t working. Our representatives aren’t really representing the public interest but the interests of a few influential industries. We have to show our strength in numbers, demonstrate to our lawmakers and representatives that they can’t get away with this.”
Earlier this month, all MEPs voted on a report by the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee (INTA) on the negotiations on TTIP. The vote resulted in the report being adopted, with 436 MEPs voting in favour and 241 against. According to Green Party MEP Jean Lambert, this was under direct pressure from the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz MEP, of the S&D (Socialist and Democrat) Group.
“The EP has not taken a clear position against ISDS today. But this is not the last time we will vote on TTIP. EU citizens and civil society, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, public services and trade unions are increasingly aware of what’s at risk with this proposed Treaty: hard-fought-for standards.”
The fact that the June vote on TTIP was postponed due to the unprecedented public outcry against it shows that large-scale opposition from the electorate can have an effect. Let’s hope enough people keep up the pressure.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.