The US and the European Union (EU) are drawing up a devastating deal behind closed doors. It would give corporations even more power to ride roughshod over human health and the environment.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to create a transatlantic free trade area. It is similar to agreements being drawn up between the EU and Canada, and the US and a group of east Asian and Australasian countries.
But a leak of the draft chapter on food safety gives a chilling glimpse of what could be in store. EU states would drop restrictions against chemically treated US meat imports, while the US would have to drop measures it brought in against mad cow disease.
Firms on both sides of the Atlantic would have fewer requirements to label what they are feeding us—and governments would have fewer responsibilities to test it.
The negotiations are based on a drive towards “regulatory coherence”—making the rules more similar.
In practice that means dragging everything down to the lowest level. Legal standards could be leveled down in everything from data protection to health and safety at work.
The deal’s supporters make outlandish claims about how it could boost trade, and put out even more misleading statistics about what it would mean for ordinary people.
Any new income that was generated would be profit for the rich. And with most of the import duties between the US and EU already cut to a minimum, the treaty targets the regulations that get in the way of those profits.
The most controversial measure is known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). It allows companies to sue governments for “interfering” with their profits—such as nationalisation.
Existing treaties that include the mechanism have been used to attack or pre-emptively undermine a wide range of laws.
In Britain, there are fears it could be used to scare future governments off “reverse privatisation” of NHS services with the prospect of multi-billion pound lawsuits. It’s a top priority on the US negotiators’ wish list, but it could be forced to drop them in the face of growing opposition.
In an unprecedented response to a European Commission treaty consultation, over 150,000 people sent submissions to its survey about ISDS—mainly against them.
It’s opposed by trade unions and NGOs, but also the EU parliament’s social democrats who Labour MEPs sit with. Even the German government opposed the measure.
TTIP negotiations could be wrapped up by the end of this year, with the next round of talks set for September. It’s all the more reason to back the campaign to get rid of the whole noxious treaty.
Big firms still need states to protect their interests
TTIP builds on the trade deregulation that led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but it’s a big retreat from the original plan.
The WTO is becoming a lame duck—the Doha round of negotiations for a new global treaty has dragged on for 13 years with no end in sight.
The notorious North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to be the blueprint for a bigger free trade area spanning across the Americas. This too is dead in the water. Instead various bilateral and regional treaties have filled the gap, and TTIP is an attempt to take this to a bigger level.
But even the US and EU states are finding it hard to agree. The new deal could still end up bogged down long enough for opposition from below to break it. The ruling class faces a paradox.
Corporations are larger than ever, and increasingly need to expand beyond their home markets. Yet the great myth of “globalisation” was that this left states powerless before the multinationals.
But giant firms depend on a state to protect their advantage at home while helping them muscle in abroad. Different power blocs now compete against a backdrop of economic crisis.
They want to expand their markets, but maintain control over their own economies. This is a recipe for deadlock. We can’t underestimate bosses’ and governments’ drive to put profit before people. In the end international treaties are only as powerful as the states that uphold them.
Health insurer sued Slovakia
Private health insurers used ISDS against Slovak health policy. They were part of a treaty with the Netherlands.
In 2006, Dutch firm Achmea sued and won £23 million in damages over a law restricting health firms’ ability to repatriate profits.
Then last year it took action against a draft bill that could nationalise health insurance.
Cutting wages and regulations
A treaty between France and Egypt allowed Veolia to sue Egypt over increasing the minimum wage.
Treaties with the US have armed Lone Pine Resources to sue Quebec over its ban on fracking, and Philip Morris to challenge Australia and Uruguay’s restrictions on cigarette packaging.
Could banned items be sold?
Manufactuers could bring back banned pesticides. They hope to use TTIP against the “precautionary principle”, which bans products that appear to cause dangerous effects.
Bosses want to bring in a new “innovation principle”. Chemicals couldn’t be banned until scientists proved a direct cause and effect link.