The UK government is the real villain when it comes to terrible trade deals

The threat that TTIP poses should not be seen as unique to the EU, nor should the deal be used as ammunition against Britain’s membership of the Union

 

George Osborne was in Paris yesterday, making the case for a more ‘competitive’ EU as the Conservatives push for further economic liberalisation in Europe.

This is a timely reminder, as many progressives in Britain tussle over our place in Europe, that the EU is the sum of many parts – and if a majority of its parts, including the UK’s government, are pushing rightwards, it is no surprise to see the current direction of travel.

Campaigners for a so-called ‘lexit’ hold up TTIP – the US-EU trade deal currently being negotiated – as a sure sign that the EU is too tightly wedded to free market economics – and is forcing the UK into undemocratic treaties.

In making that case against the EU it’s all too easy to brush over the fact that our government is fiercely pro-TTIP and has negotiated equally damaging trade deals independently of the EU.

Just over a year ago, the UK parliament ratified the UK-Colombia Bilateral Investment Treaty, designed to cut down barriers to trade between the two countries.

A number of organisations, both in the UK and Colombia, raised serious concerns about the human rights implications of the deal in advance of its ratification, particularly because of the inclusion of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism which allows corporations to circumvent national courts and sue governments for damage to their profits.

There has already been a huge outcry over the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP – but many don’t realise that the mechanism is already in place in our deals with other nations.

The Colombian government is currently attempting the resettlement of 5.7 million victims of forced displacement, many of whom have now found corporations occupying their property. Under the UK-Colombia BIT, British companies using land in this way could sue the Colombian government for trying to return it to its citizens.

Furthermore, land redistribution is a key part of the peace process currently being negotiated between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC; it is possible that the BIT will prove an obstacle to the necessary reforms, jeopardising the resolution of the world’s longest-standing civil war.

This year, the UK parliament is due to ratify another such treaty with Ethiopia, and similar concerns have been raised about its impact – in particular, of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.

In the case of the Ethiopian deal the ISDS clause is less carefully worded and wider reaching than TTIP’s, extending the scope of circumstances under which corporations can take the government to court and giving even less regard to public interest.

There are currently hundreds of  ISDS tribunals being fought, and even when they are unsuccessful the cost for governments, often running into the tens of millions of dollars, is one many countries can ill-afford to bear.

These deals show so-called trade liberalisation at its worst, allowing corporations to ride roughshod over the democratic will of developing companies and forcing governments to favour big business over the public good.

And while TTIP is now the subject of immense public pressure and scrutiny, our government is signing exploitative bilateral deals with far less scrutiny and opposition.

The Europe-wide reaction to TTIP, like the self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP, has shown the strength of feeling against TTIP and the potential for people across the continent to hold the EU to account.

The role that many MEPs, too, have played in securing greater scrutiny of the deal and delaying its passage through the European Parliament, illustrates that our parliamentarians in Europe often do work hard to represent those who elected them.

It is the unaccountable European Commission and Council that have been really pushing this deal – backed by the hoards of corporate lobbyists in Brussels – and it’s this democratic deficit that we need to be fighting to fix as members of the EU.

The threat that TTIP poses should not be seen as unique to the EU, nor should the deal be used as ammunition against Britain’s membership of the Union.

Instead, we should be opposing damaging trade deals here at home as vehemently as we oppose those negotiated in Europe, and we must push for an EU that defends the rights of people against the power of corporate interests.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion. Follow her on Twitter

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.