Two international trade agreements are being secretly negotiated. If ratified, they’ll threaten our freedoms and futures, from digital privacy to generic medicines, and cement the domination of the Corporation in our modern world – all by the end of 2014.
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, two major international trade agreements are being hurriedly negotiated behind closed doors. A lot of people in the UK haven’t even heard of them, but they’re an affront to democracy and will have intrusive and far-reaching consequences for all life on this planet if ratified.
The TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and the TPPA (The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) are so spectacularly detrimental to the future of liberty, justice, equality, fairness and the environment as to seem like the inventions of a dystopian novel. These proposed Agreements are so biased towards business and harmful to people, parliaments and this planet, it’s hard to believe any government is involved with them. They are, however, fantastic news for big business and a major leap towards a Hollywood-style, corporation-run dystopian future.
In a nutshell, these two agreements are between groups of countries in the Atlantic and Pacific regions respectively. The TTIP most directly affects Europe as it is between the EU and the US. The friendly face of this monster is that it will promote trade by removing tariffs between the EU and the US, tariffs already at minimal levels. The less-advertised main goal is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ that restrict potential profits being made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. 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.
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’ll create jobs and be good for the economy. 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 numbers and growth promised and been drastically revised down.
These alarming treaties are purported to be unconcealed and open. In September 2013, the European Commission stated that TTPI poses no threat to regulations on health, safety, the environment or financial security, as the negotiations would be ‘transparent’. Yet, just two months earlier, the chief EU negotiator confirmed in a letter that the Commission would block public access to all documents relating to the negotiations, and for up to thirty years. The EU Trade Commissioner was even more explicit, telling the EU Parliament that the Commission would approach TTPI with the same level of secrecy as for previous trade agreements. “The reason they keep negotiations secret is because they wouldn’t survive pubic oversight in the light of day,” states Maira.
One of the ways countries are giving up their sovereignty to corporations is through a disturbing mechanism called the ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS). Bypassing domestic courts and parliamentary laws, it permits corporations to sue governments before secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers if they introduce regulations that might cut into company profits.
Present examples of ISDS in action via existing trade agreements include: Monsanto suing Vermont over GM labeling on food; Philip Morris suing the Australian government over the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes; Canadian mining company, Infinito Gold, suing Costa Rica for $94m in lost investment for their refusing to let them ravage their rainforests - originally the claim was also for $1bn in lost profits, which they now deny demanding.
All of which begs the question: why would governments be complicit in ceding further 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 Citi Group; 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: “This agreement is 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.”
The EU has opened a consultation into ISDS in TTIP, which closes today, after pressure from people and organisations against the Agreement. It demonstrates that being vocal and active does have an effect. The essence of the TTIP and TPPA places money before any other aspect of existence: profits before people and this planet. Let’s hope enough of us act to prevent them.
You can voice your objections to the ISDS mechanism and TTIP here