Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lee Williams on why big business wants the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership // George Monbiot: Transatlantic trade deal a frontal assault on democracy // Jayati Ghosh - Pseudo ‘trade deals’

Lee Williams - What is The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?
The trade negotiations are an assault on democracy. I would vote against them except… hang on a minute, I can’t

Have you heard about TTIP? If your answer is no, don’t get too worried; you’re not meant to have. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It is, as John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, said: “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.” Since before TTIP negotiations began last February, the process has been secretive and undemocratic. This secrecy is on-going, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. But worryingly, the covert nature of the talks may well be the least of our problems. Here are six other reasons why we should be scared of TTIP, very scared indeed:

1 The NHS: Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS. The European Commission has claimed that public services will be kept out of TTIP. However, according to the Huffington Post, the UK Trade Minister Lord Livingston has admitted that talks about the NHS were still on the table. 

2 Food and environmental safety: TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda will seek to bring EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70 per cent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients. By contrast, the EU allows virtually no GM foods. The US also has far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides. It also uses growth hormones in its beef which are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. US farmers have tried to have these restrictions lifted repeatedly in the past through the World Trade Organisation and it is likely that they will use TTIP to do so again.

The same goes for the environment, where the EU’s REACH regulations are far tougher on potentially toxic substances. In Europe a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used; in the US the opposite is true: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. As an example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12.

3 Banking regulations: TTIP cuts both ways. The UK, under the influence of the all-powerful City of London, is thought to be seeking a loosening of US banking regulations. America’s financial rules are tougher than ours. They were put into place after the financial crisis to directly curb the powers of bankers and avoid a similar crisis happening again. TTIP, it is feared, will remove those restrictions, effectively handing all those powers back to the bankers.

4 Privacy: Remember ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)? It was thrown out by a massive majority in the European Parliament in 2012 after a huge public backlash against what was rightly seen as an attack on individual privacy where internet service providers would be required to monitor people’s online activity.  Well, it’s feared that TTIP could be bringing back ACTA’s central elements, proving that if the democratic approach doesn’t work, there’s always the back door. An easing of data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials are also thought to be on the cards.

5 Jobs: The EU has admitted that TTIP will probably cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. It has even advised EU members to draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment. Examples from other similar bi-lateral trade agreements around the world support the case for job losses.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico caused the loss of one million US jobs over 12 years, instead of the hundreds of thousands of extra that were promised.

6 Democracy: TTIP’s biggest threat to society is its inherent assault on democracy. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.

ISDSs are already in place in other bi-lateral trade agreements around the world and have led to such injustices as in Germany where Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Here we see a public health policy put into place by a democratically elected government being threatened by an energy giant because of a potential loss of profit. Nothing could be more cynically anti-democratic.

There are around 500 similar cases of businesses versus nations going on around the world at the moment and they are all taking place before ‘arbitration tribunals’ made up of corporate lawyers appointed on an ad hoc basis, which according to War on Want’s John Hilary, are “little more than kangaroo courts” with “a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.”

So I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. I would vote against TTIP, except… hang on a minute… I can’t. Like you, I have no say whatsoever in whether TTIP goes through or not.  All I can do is tell as many people about it as possible, as I hope, will you. We may be forced to accept an attack on democracy but we can at least fight against the conspiracy of silence.

Brussels has kept quiet about a treaty that would let rapacious companies subvert our laws, rights and national sovereignty - The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing. The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It's already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet...

Jayati Ghosh - Pseudo ‘trade deals’
The idea behind trade treaties such as the TPP is to write in binding international rules that will prevent governments from legislating or implementing laws in the interests of workers and citizens in general.

ON June 12, the United States House of Representatives stalled a Bill that would have set in motion the process of confirming a major new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement (between the U.S. and 15 countries in Asia and Latin America, but excluding China). This was a major blow to President Barack Obama, who has put a huge personal effort into achieving this and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) agreement (between the U.S. and countries in Europe), and it was a blow coming from his own party since the Republicans in Congress support both deals. It is understandable that Obama wants to leave behind a legacy after a presidency that many of his own supporters have found disappointing on many fronts. What is surprising, though, is that he has chosen this area in particular and seems to be convinced that trade deals such as these will leave a positive legacy. So what explains this conviction and what explains the equally fervent opposition in a significant section of U.S. society and in his own party?

Obama’s position is probably more geopolitical than purely economic. The TPP is part of his currently less than successful “pivot to Asia”. He may believe that tying countries into deeper trade and investment relations—effectively on the U.S.’ terms—will strengthen U.S. hegemony. As he has argued, “We have to make sure America writes the rules of the global economy. And we should do it today, while our economy is in the position of global strength. Because if we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what, China will.”

The opposition to the TPP comes in part from U.S. workers who feel that this deal will further undermine their bargaining position by exposing them to competitive pressure from producers in other parts of the world (especially in Asia) who operate on the basis of much lower wages and worse working conditions for workers. They point to the workings of the North American Free Trade Agreement or the entry of China into the World Trade Organisation, after which less-skilled workers in the U.S. have been at a disadvantage. But as it happens, looking at trade results to assess the gains and losses of either the TPP or the T-TIP actually completely misses the point.