Remember the fuss over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)? No?
Let me tell you a story.
Back when the UK was part of the European Union, there was a move to create a trading partnership with the United States, allowing goods to flow between the two power blocs, practically tax free.
But problems arose over a so-called ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ system that would have allowed corporations to prosecute individual nations if they passed laws that – for example – protected citizens from having to buy inferior goods that put their health at risk.
This would have interfered with the corporations’ profits, you see.
The possibility of entering an agreement that gave ultimate power to greedy shareholders rather than national governments that – at least nominally – exist to protect citizens killed the TTIP stone dead.
Now we have evidence of what a good idea this was:
Countries could soon face a ‘wave’ of multi-million dollar lawsuits from multinational corporations claiming compensation for measures introduced to protect people from COVID-19 and its economic fallout, according to a new report.
Researchers have identified more than twenty corporate law firms offering services to mount such cases, which would seek compensation from states for measures that have negatively impacted company profits – including lost future profits.
Measures that could face legal challenges include the state acquisition of private hospitals; steps introduced to ensure that drugs, tests and vaccines are affordable; and relief on rent, debt and utility payments.
Under controversial ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) mechanisms, foreign investors, companies and shareholders are able to sue states directly at obscure international tribunals over a wide range of government actions… in what the researchers describe as “a parallel justice system for the rich”.
This Writer is not aware of the UK being a part of any ISDS procedure, and it is clear that any agreement to take part in one would be an offence against democracy.
Note very carefully that the UK’s Conservative government was very keen to take us into such an agreement with the United States, as part of the EU.
I can only agree with Labour’s John McDonnell…
Just when you thought the pandemic was bringing out the best in most people, some others crawl out from under their stones to exploit the tragedy. This is why we need to challenge the investor/state dispute settlement procedure in any proposed trade agreements. https://t.co/Iv4godCGE5
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The Tories promised they would take back control after Brexit. They meant they would take it AWAY – from US [Image: PA].
If you were wondering why the Tories have quietly dropped their dodgy ‘Bill of Rights’, it’s because they don’t need it any more – they can achieve the same aims, with far less fuss, in their so-called ‘Repeal Bill’.
The Bill will be the most dishonest piece of legislation to go through Parliament in decades – starting with its title. It will repeal nothing. The stated aim is to enshrine European laws that the UK observes (without having passed them as our own) into UK law, to ensure a smoother transition when Brexit happens.
But this is not true. The Tories intend to pick and choose which EU laws get to go on the UK statute book – and the plan is to ensure that the people lose out to corporations on every line.
So the ‘Bill of Rights’ – which was intended primarily to remove rights that had been conferred on UK citizens by the EU – will no longer be necessary; the Tories will simply cut those rights out of the Repeal Bill and hide it from the public.
Similarly, the Tories won’t have to face public scrutiny over their plans to ensure that corporations can sue the UK government if any future administration tries to put the good of the citizens before private profit.
The so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system was a principle reason the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement foundered last year. Soon after, it was rumoured that the whole project may have been demanded by the UK government, with the intention of putting corporations in control.
Now, with our departure from the EU imminent, the Tories don’t need anybody else’s permission to impose the worst of all possible worlds on the people of the United Kingdom.
They are planning a new hierarchy, with working people at the bottom, enjoying no rights other than what their overprivileged toff masters hand down to them.
Next will be the apparatus of the state, as embodied in the elected government.
But the government will be a slave to the will of the corporations.
And who will be at the top of this system?
Why, shareholders in corporations, of course. And wouldn’t it be a strange coincidence if these boardrooms turned out to be stuffed with people who are currently Conservative government ministers?
Perhaps you should ask your Tory-voting neighbour why they support this kind of corruption.
Fundamental rights and powers that ordinary citizens currently enjoy will be scrapped.
Currently, a European ruling means an individual can seek damages if the government has failed to properly implement the law. But the government says that no similar domestic law exists, so there will be no legal mechanism to get such redress in future.
There will be plenty more where this comes from. The Great Repeal Bill, after all, awards our government powers that no modern government has enjoyed in peacetime. And far from simply changing the words “European Union” into “United Kingdom”, ministers will gain the ability to make radical changes to fundamental human rights and environmental protections that simply don’t make sense when taken out of an EU context.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Trade Secretary Liam Fox is touring the planet looking for unsavoury regimes we can sign deregulatory trade deals with. And at the heart of those trade deals, in all likelihood, will be special “corporate courts” that allow foreign businesses the power to sue governments for regulations they judge to be “unfair”.
That’s right – as British citizens lose their ability to hold the government to account in court, foreign multinationals will gain rights to sue the government in secret arbitration panels for passing a regulation or standard that those corporations believe will damage their profits.
We know this because these “courts”, formally known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), already exist in hundreds of investment deals in which countries all over the world have been secretly sued for such radical actions as putting cigarettes in plain packaging, placing a moratorium on fracking, removing toxic chemicals from petrol. No appeal is allowed. And we know that the British government has been one of the most vociferous in the world in putting the case for such courts.
A rocket is fired between combatants in the Israel-Palestine conflict during July. If the UK government recognises Palestine, could this change the way the international community views the situation there?
Much though this blog maligns the BBC News website, it does come out with the occasional scrap of news, such as the fact that MPs are to vote on a backbench motion to officially recognise Palestine as a state.
“Labour backbencher Grahame Morris will present the motion on Monday as MPs return to the Commons,” the report states.
“The motion has the full backing of the Labour shadow cabinet, the BBC has been told.
“The vote is symbolic and would not change government policy but could have international implications.”
It goes on to say that backbenchers are likely to add an amendment, simply to say that this would be a contribution towards securing a two-state solution for the conflicts between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people.
In the light of the violence that flared up in July, this all seemed fairly straightforward – but it seems it isn’t. The Independenthas reported that the amendment is part of an “internal revolt” from “pro-Israeli” members of the shadow cabinet over a decision to “force” them to support the proposal.
To be frank, it all seems very childish, especially when considering the number of deaths – mainly of Palestinians but also of some Israelis – and the destruction of homes and property.
But what do you think? Originally this was going to be a question about Labour but considering the pettiness of the squabble, let’s rise above it: Should the United Kingdom recognise Palestine as a state? Please vote.
It is the eve of the European Parliamentary elections. How much do you really know about what your candidates would do – if elected?
Much of the debate so far has focused on personalities rather than policies – but does it really matter that Labour won’t commit to an in-out referendum on our EU membership (which is a UK Parliament issue in any case) if its MEPs do their job properly and defend the interests of the British people in the Brussels assembly?
Does it matter that the Conservatives are promising such a referendum, if they give away your right to a high-quality health service, along with your rights at work, to American companies?
These are the issues that really matter.
A few months ago, Vox Political was running articles on the highly controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States of America. Much of the groundwork has been carried out in secret, hidden from public scrutiny, but the information that has been made available has aroused serious concern that this agreement will weaken existing standards and regulations that protect workers and consumers in the EU.
In particular, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws.
It is widely believed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service.
With this in mind, I wrote to three of the four current Welsh MEPs (the fourth is standing down), asking a few simple questions:
Do you want the health of your constituents to depend on a foreign company’s balance sheet?
Are you in favour of sales or the safety of your constituents?
Do you support attacks on workers’ rights?
Do you support the people who elected you – or are you a puppet of the corporations?
The response from Labour’s Derek Vaughan was characteristically short and to the point: “As you would expect, Labour MEPs oppose the ISDS in certainly anything which would allow the Tories/UKIP to argue for further privatisation of the NHS.
“You may also wish to take this matter up with those who really are the puppets of corporations.”
We’ll come to them shortly. Derek’s answer – though brief, tells you everything you need to know about Labour. They aren’t staying silent (as a recent Liberal Democrat letter asserted) and they aren’t pandering to corporate interests. Labour will defend British institutions against any European ruling or agreement that infringes on them. That’s a promise.
Jill Evans, for Plaid Cymru, had a little more to say: “I share your concerns regarding the TTIP as does the rest of my group in the European Parliament, the Greens/EFA group.
“We are 100 per cent against ISDS as we do not believe that extra-judicial powers should be given to foreign investors. We have been working hard to lobby the Commission to get them to make changes to the TTIP… The TTIP will include a strong focus on … co-operation but the regulatory cultures and social and environmental standards on both sides of the Atlantic are very different; conflicts over GMOs and Hormone Beef are just two examples.
“The TTIP is also controversial from an industrial policy point of view. The two blocs are not complementary, but in fierce competition for global markets and the setting of global industrial standards. Transatlantic cooperation could, however, pave the way for higher global ecological standards and for a faster conversion towards a sustainable green economy. Both the EU and the US need to find new avenues to create social wealth. The task we are set with is trying to find the right balance.”
So Plaid and the Greens are as strongly-opposed to the ISDS as Labour, but acknowledge there are advantages to be had – if this agreement is negotiated by the right representatives. This is why it is so important that you use your vote wisely. A vote for UKIP might seem like a worthwhile protest against the UK’s Conservative government, but what good will it do when the Kippers, who support corporate power, wave through measures to strip you of your rights?
And then we have Kay Swinburne, representing the Conservatives. Her response was the longest of the lot, perhaps suggesting that she knew her party’s stance was harder to justify.
“Transatlantic trade flows (goods and services trade plus earning and payments on investment) averaged $4 billion each day through the first three quarters of 2011. In 2008 EU/US combined economies accounted for nearly 60 per cent of global GDP,” she stated.
“However, for all its value and importance, the EU-US trading relationship still suffers from numerous obstacles, preventing it reaching its full potential to provide growth and jobs. It has been estimated that the deal could bring an extra £10bn to the UK annually, which would give a huge boost to jobs in our economy at a time when we are still suffering with the effects of the economic crisis.”
There is little evidence for this, and even that is poor. The European Commission’s own impact assessment admits that a 0.5 per cent increase in growth would be “optimistic”, and independent research suggests that a meagre 0.01 per cent increase in the growth rate over 10 years is more likely. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico led to a net LOSS of almost a million jobs in the US. You have to ask why this MEP is arguing against the facts.
“That is an extra £400 to every UK household and while some reports criticise the economic focus, I would argue that this is exactly the kind of stimulus package we should be focusing on,” she continued. Again, this is inaccurate. Every household will not gain an extra £400 because of business deals carried out between very few, very large, corporations. In fact, much larger amounts of money will go to the kind of people who have too much of it already.
“ISDS is a system that allows investors to initiate proceedings directly against a government should they believe that their property has been expropriated illegally, that is, not in conformance with the laws of that country itself,” she continued, skimming over the possibility that a legal challenge could be mounted against changes in a country’s laws – such as Labour’s planned repeal of the Health and Social Care Act that allowed the creeping privatisation of the NHS, if the Conservatives are defeated in the 2015 UK general election.
“The Conservatives in the European Parliament support the inclusion of an ISDS chapter in the agreement, because even with developed countries it ensures certainty for our investors, including SMEs.”
She does not explain what that certainty may be. Is it the certainty that they can run roughshod over their workers? That their profits will take precedence over our health? What about certainty for our citizens?
“Rest assured that this is not a mechanism that will allow for fundamental laws of the EU, such as the REACH legislation on chemicals or the Tobacco Products Directive, to be overturned by a foreign company.” That does not offer any consolation if the laws of the UK do not remain similarly inviolate.
“The EU and its Member States will and must remain able to adopt and enforce, in accordance with their own and EU laws, measures necessary to pursue legitimate public policy objectives in the fields of social and environmental standards, security, the stability of the financial system, and public health and safety.” This seems encouraging, but is overshadowed by what this Conservative MEP has already stated.
“The European Parliament, as well as the UK Government, will also have to give final approval to the deal.”
This is why we need a sceptical European Parliament, and a critical UK Parliament when the deal comes to Westminster for ratification.
That is the information provided by the Welsh MEPs. Labour and the Green Party will stand up for you, while the Conservative Party and UKIP will stand up for the few.
Put in that way, it isn’t a choice at all.
But is the electorate well-enough informed to make the appropriate decision?
This is critically important for the general election next year, because timing is everything.
If any of you were in any doubt about Labour’s position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the USA and the EU, this Tweet from Andy Burnham should clarify:
“Crucial commitment from @Ed_Miliband today: ‘The next Labour government will work to make sure the NHS is protected from EU competition law’.”
This is important because the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) part of the agreement would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws – and it is widely agreed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of permanently locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service.
Labour’s MEPs have already confirmed that they have no intention of supporting this part of the trade agreement; now we have confirmation that only a Labour government in the UK would protect the NHS from the irreparable harm being planned by the Conservative Party.
It is ironic that, if you go to the BBC News website and find their ‘politics’ page, you will see an article entitled Labour makes no sense on Europe, says David Cameron.
In fact, Labour is talking far more sense – in terms of protecting the people of this country – than the Conservatives. Leaving the EU won’t stop us having to conform with European standards, if we want to trade with those countries; and any decision to stop immigration will be met, undoubtedly, with the expulsion of our own 2.5 million expats from the EU countries where they have settled. We will be more crowded, not less.
If the British people want to vote on a way to stop European laws from harming us, then we need look no further than the 2015 general election.
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, reckons he’s going to consult the public over the controversional Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the EU/US free trade agreement.
He says he is determined to strike the right balance between protecting EU firms’ investment interests and upholding governments’ right to regulate in the public interest.
Bear in mind, this is for the investment part of the deal, which includes investment protection and the red-hot disputed subject of investor-to-state dispute settlement, where firms would be allowed to sue governments if regulations got in the way of their profits, as the deal currently stands.
A proposed text for the investment part of the talks will be published in early March.
“Governments must always be free to regulate so they can protect people and the environment. But they must also find the right balance and treat investors fairly, so they can attract investment,” said Mr De Gucht.
“Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.
“I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal. Now I want them to have their say… TTIP will firmly uphold EU member states’ right to regulate in the public interest.”
Do you believe him?
The European Commission wants to use TTIP to improve provisions already in place that protect investments by EU-based companies in the US, and vice versa.
In practice, we are told, there would be a require for this protection to defer to states’ right to regulate in the public’s interest.
There would also be new and improved rules, including a code of conduct, to ensure arbitrators are chosen fairly and act impartially, and to open up their proceedings to the public. This comes after significant unrest about arbitrators being chosen exclusively from big business, with a natural bias towards the interests of their employers.
It seems “no other part of the negotiations is affected by this public consultation and the TTIP negotiations will continue as planned”.
Is this the only part of the deal that affects the public interest, then?
I don’t know. The TTIP negotiations have been shrouded in mystery since they began last June. Can anyone outside the talks – and those taking part are sworn to secrecy – say they are an expert?
Since the talks began, the Commission has held three rounds of consultations with stakeholders – big businesses operating in both Europe and the USA “to gather the views and wishes of the public and interested parties across Europe”, it says here.
“The Commission has also done public consultations before the start of the TTIP negotiations.” Have you taken part in any such negotiations?
The rationale behind the talks is that the EU is the world’s largest foreign direct investor and the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, so it must ensure that EU companies are well-protected when they invest in countries outside the EU. This involves reciprocal agreements to protect foreign companies.
“Investment is essential for growth, for jobs and for creating the wealth that pays for our public services, our schools, our hospitals and our pensions,” the argument goes. But who gets the wealth? The people who work to make it – whose living and working conditions are likely to be reduced dramatically to lowest-common-denominator terms? Or the company bosses who are ironing out the terms of this agreement while most of us are being told to look the other way?
Let’s look at an example of this in action. According to OpenDemocracy.net, the TTIP talks “could see England’s NHS tied into a privatised model semi-permanently.
“The idea [is] that the Health and Social Care Act was developed to allow foreign transnational corporations to profit from NHS privatisation.
“Even worse is the idea that, once passed, an international trade agreement will leave us irreversibly committed to privatising the NHS. Even with a change of government and the repeal of the Act, we’d be facing the insurmountable obstacle of international competition laws.”
The article demands that the government must be clear with the public – will our health service be opened to multinational business as part of this trade agreement?
Leftie politics sheet the New Statesman agrees: “This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain.
“The agreement will provide a legal heavy hand to the corporations seeking to grind down the health service. It will act as a Transatlantic bridge between the Health and Social Care Act in the UK, which forces the NHS to compete for contracts, and the private companies in the US eager to take it on for their own gain.
“It gives the act international legal backing and sets the whole shift to privatisation in stone because once it is made law, it will be irreversible.
“Once these ISDS tools are in place, lucrative contracts will be underwritten, even where a private provider is failing patients and the CCG wants a contract cancelled. In this case, the provider will be able to sue a CCG for future loss of earnings, causing the loss of vast sums of taxpayer money on legal and administrative costs.
“Even more worrying is that, once the TTIP is enacted, repealing the Health and Social Care Act in the UK will become almost impossible.”
The public has the democratic right to contest the agreement, and fight for a health service that protects them, the Statesman says, “but how can they when MEPs do nothing to inform opinion or gather support back home? The NHS is in a very precarious position. It seems that soon, with the help of Brussels, its fate will be sealed.”
Would you like your MEP to speak up for you – in other words, to do what he or she was elected to do and actually represent your interests? Then why not get in touch and ask why they’ve been so quiet about this for so long? It’s easy – you can find their contact details here.
The EU has released a ‘factsheet’ summarising how it would like you to understand changes to existing investment protection rules and the ISDS system.
The previous Vox Political article about TTIP is here.
The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.
Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.
“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.
“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.
“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.
“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.
“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”
Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.
You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.
So let’s give you some of the facts:
The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.
It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.
‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.
All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.
TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.
In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.
In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.
TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.
As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.
Trade agreements are effectively permanent.
Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.
As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.
‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.
The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).
TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!
The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.
Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.
In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.
You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is bitter pill for anyone to swallow, if they have spent any time defending Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The partnership between the EU and the United States would open America to the kind of free trade deals that have been going on in Europe ever since the original Economic Community was formed – but there is a problem.
It isn’t a problem for businesses; they are in line to get a deal better than anything ever experienced in the world of trade. Citizens and national governments, on the other hand – you, me, and the people who represent us – will be railroaded.
This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’, which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments.
In other words, this could be the biggest threat to democracy since World War II.
In the UK, it could be used by shale mining companies to ensure that the government could not keep them out of protected areas, by banks fighting financial regulation, and by cigarette companies fighting the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes. How do we know? Because these things are already happening elsewhere in the world.
If a product had been banned by a country’s regulators, the manufacturer will be able to sue them, forcing that state to pay compensation or let the product in – even if this undermines health and safety laws in that country.
It seems that domestic courts are deemed likely to be biased or lack independence, but nobody has explained why they think the secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers will be impartial. Common sense says they’ll rule for the profit, every time.
Now ask yourself a question: Have you ever heard about this?
Chances are that you haven’t – unless you have read articles by George Monbiot (one in The Guardian this week prompted this piece) or have insider knowledge.
The European Commission has done its utmost to keep the issue from becoming public knowledge. Negotiations on the trade and investment partnership have involved 119 behind-closed-doors meetings with corporations and their lobbyists (please note that last point, all you supporters of the government’s so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill), and just eight with civil society groups. Now that concerned citizens have started to publicise the facts, the Commission has apparently worked out a way to calm us down with a “dedicated communications operation” to “manage stakeholders, social media and transparency” by claiming that the deal is about “delivering growth and jobs” and will not “undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment” – meaning it will do precisely the opposite.
Your Coalition government appears to be all for it. Kenneth Clarke reckons it is “Scrooge-like” to inflate concerns about investor protection and ignore the potential economic gains – but if the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is any yardstick, exports will drop and thousands of jobs will be lost.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has published an early day motion on the issue – signed by a total of seven fellow Parliamentarians so far.
Labour MEPs are doing their best to cut the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ out of the agreement, but they are fighting a lonely battle against the massed forces of greed.
So now ask yourself a second question: Why is the European Commission lying to Britain when we are already halfway out of the door?
Britain is not happy with the European Union or its place within that organisation. People think too much of their national sovereignty – their country’s freedom to do what it wants – is being stripped away by faceless bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of the population at heart. Now the European Commission is trying to foist this upon us.
For Eurosceptics in Parliament – of all political hues – this is a gift. For those of us who accept that we are better off in Europe – as it is currently constituted and without the new trade agreement – it is a poisoned pill.
Are we being pushed into a position where we have to choose between two evils that could have been avoided, if only our leaders had had an ounce of political will and an inch of backbone?
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