Credit to the TTIP Information Network for facts and figures.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP for short, is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that is currently being negotiated. Its proponents say that TTIP will bring investment to EU countries, promote economic growth and competitiveness, while also bolstering environmental sustainability and safeguarding energy security. They want this bill pushed through as soon as possible, claiming it will be for the benefit of all.
But this trade agreement is built on the same idea as the notorious North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which led to a 47-hour working week for US workers, together with no national legal minimum wage, no annual paid leave, no maternity leave, an overall lowering of health and safety standards, incredibly limited social welfare, and the introduction of “right to work” litigation which despite its name is an anti-worker, union busting act.
This style of trade agreement erodes the autonomy of the state and promotes a Friedman-style economic model where corporations are sovereign and profit is the new moral good.
A 2007 EU Commission report on TTIP states that “prolonged and sustained dislocation of workers” is to be expected after its introduction, code for huge loss of jobs. A more recent EU Impact Report has shown that the benefits of signing up to such an agreement have been and continue to be greatly exaggerated by TTIP advocates. It estimates that 1.3 million jobs will be lost across the EU, while the zone will see a decrease in collectible taxes to the amount of €10 billion alongside footing a €14 billion social welfare bill. The Centre for Economic Policy Research, hired by the EU, has also found that TTIP will only see at best a negligible increase in economic growth, by 0.5% after 12 years and 0.36% within those years. To put it in perspective; the release of a new iPhone promotes more growth than that.
The EU itself recognises how problematic the TTIP agreement is for workers and acknowledges that the benefits are vastly outweighed by the costs. So who does benefit?
The short answer is corporations. TTIP is about the reclassification of capital and labour: it speeds up the process of consolidating global capital and constructs legal systems to protect corporations and profit above all else. This is marketed under the guise of “harmonising standards” and “removing non-tariff barriers to trade.” A non-tariff barrier is something like health and safety standards for workers and food, environmental protections, and even the minimum wage, while harmonising in this case means forcing workers into a race to the bottom. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the final stage of capitalism.
TTIP also discusses the fact that signatory countries will be made to provide “increased market access,” meaning the further commodification of public services like health and education and increasing pressure to privatise them. This pressure will eventually be formalised and made legally compulsory through the treaty. These amenities will be turned into private profit-making enterprises. This privatisation will be impossible to reverse because of the Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) that will be established with the introduction of TTIP.
ISDS is the means through which a corporation can sue a country for having laws or policies passed that cause “indirect expropriation of investors’ properties”, or in other words have a detrimental effect on their profits. As an example of how this would operate, under similar agreements to TTIP, Veolia, a company aiding Irish Water in its setup, sued Egypt for introducing the minimum wage. Elsewhere, Occidental Petroleum, which annually release 1.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, sued Ecuador for legitimately and legally terminating their oil contract. And Quebec is being sued by a fracking company for placing a moratorium on fracking after an environmental impact study found that drinking water would be contaminated if the company proceeded.
The ISDS is bound by no law. Not human rights law, not environmental law, and not the law of the country being sued. It is a court, run behind closed doors by a cartel of fifteen people from the top law firms in the world. It will cement any regressive policy in place and deny countries the chance to improve workers’ rights. Due to a transparency clause in the treaty (ironic, as TTIP was negotiated in total secrecy) all countries will be obliged to “consult and engage investors” before introducing new law or policy that will affect investor/corporations’ profits. The threat of a lawsuit for many countries will be enough to prevent even discussing potential improvements for workers.
You can read a detailed analysis on the rise of this court and the problems it creates in the Profiting from Injustice Report here.
So what has been done to combat TTIF and what else can be done?
To date, trade unions have played a large role in fighting the implementation of TTIP. Unison, Mandate, NIPSA, and Unite have all made statements against TTIP and ISDS and have highlighted the threats to workers rights and protections as well as risks to food safety standards. In the UK, TUC have passed a motion on a broad campaigning strategy for unions against TTIP and in October 2013 Unite sent an anti-TTIP statement to the House of Lords.
While TTIP may seem insurmountable, it’s important to recognise that people power defeated a similar trade agreement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), in the 1990’s through mobilisation and frustration of the process. SOPA and ACTA were defeated only in 2011/2012 by the same process, as was NAFTA’s latest re-write. Huge numbers of concerned citizens have come out on to the streets across Europe, particularly in Germany, to protest TTIP.
As well as getting out on the streets, political pressure can be applied by contacting MEPs and by pushing your union to take a stand. The TTIP Information Network has an online petition to sign and is an amazing resource of information. TTIP proponents are heavily reliant on the ignorance of the general public in order to coast this trade agreement into being. Educating and organising ourselves are our best weapons to make sure that this future does not become a reality.
[UPDATE] Connolly Media Group were also at the event and have kindly supplied us with the following video links:
Intro to Stop TTIP, Workers Rights workshop by Brendan Ogle
An overview of the Stop TTIP Event
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