Are secret negotiations further tipping the balance in favour of corporate power? And what your MEPs think.
Words: Fred Fulford
Illustration: Rosie Carmichael
The Transatlantic Trading and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States.
TTIP’s stated aim is to boost economic growth by creating a free-trade area that lifts barriers to commerce and investment. However, since a proposed draft was leaked in 2014, opposition to TTIP has gained momentum due to controversial elements of the proposed treaty. As well as cementing privatisation of public services, TTIP seeks to ‘harmonise standards’ between the EU and the US, in areas including workers rights, environmental and food safety legislation.
Opponents expect EU regulations to be weakened in order to match the US’s less vigorous standards, to remove perceived ‘obstacles to free trade’.
The inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) has caused further alarm. ISDS is an instrument allowing multinational companies to sue governments for future loss of profits, in secret tribunals arbitrated upon by corporate lawyers. Tobacco giant Philip Morris launched ISDS claims (under similar international trade agreements) against Uruguay in 2010 and Australia In 2011 after their respective governments legislated to introduce plain packaging and large health-warnings on tobacco products.
The TTIP negotiations remain secretive. But we know that of the 597 meetings the European Commission’s trade department held with lobbyists in the early days of the talks, 88% were with business lobbyists compared to 9% with public interest groups. These lobbyists include US pesticides firms calling for reductions to EU regulations which protect our environment and food safety.
If TTIP were to pass, Bristol’s economic, social and environmental priorities would be equally vulnerable to ISDS litigation, as would the local priorities of other cities in the EU. In 2009 Swedish energy firm Vattenfall launched a $1.4 billion ISDS claim against Germany after permits for the firm’s coal-fired power plant were delayed due to Hamburg’s local environmental regulations. These regulations, introduced by Hamburg‘s Environmental Authority to combat pollution, were dropped as a result.
While supporters of TTIP argue the agreement will bring vast economic benefits in terms of growth and jobs, similar claims in the past have proved unfounded. As of 2012, 18 years after the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico has almost the same national poverty rate as in 1994 (down from 52.4% to 52.3%), and has experienced much slower growth than many Latin American neighbours.
In the US, NAFTA is frequently blamed for job losses and downward pressure on wages across the country’s ‘Rust Belt’ region.
That this agreement is being drawn up by corporate interests, behind closed doors, has caused many to question whether the agreement is designed for the benefit of normal citizens or for big business. The overhanging threat of ISDS on policy-makers has also sparked fears regarding our democracies’ ability to legislate in the public interest.