Saturday, 4 April 2015

TTIP: The end of democracy?

TTIP is the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It’s a proposed treaty that’s currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA. It’s hard to discuss because (a) it’s not yet final and (b) the negotiations are secret.

Its official purpose is to reduce the trade barriers between the US and the UK. Since there are few tariff barriers between the parties the main focus must be on non-tariff barriers, ie explicit protectionism and rules which make it difficult for a company to sell products and services outside its home country. In the case of foodstuffs these rules might relate to safety, inclusion of GM crops, use of antibiotics and other drugs on farm animals and animal welfare issues.  In the case of financial services the rules might relate to bankers bonuses or to risk management. In any sector the rules might relater to terms of employment, fair trade or environmental protection.

The impact of TTIP
In fact it’s fair to say that TTIP may undermine any of the protections for workers, consumers, animals or the environment that have been built up over the last century. TTIP looks like a corporate end-run round the advances made by trade unions, humanitarians and progressive campaigners generally.

Even if these advances were to be protected TTIP could make further advances impossible. It would make a farce of democracy at both national and EU levels.
That’s because of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. In simple terms ISDS will allow companies to sue governments for breaches of TTIP. These disputes will be judged in private courts staffed by corporate lawyers! For an independent view see this in the Economist.

The likely effect of TTIP will be a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of healthcare, environmental protection, employment rights and animal welfare (among other things).

So, like the rest of the Green Party, I'm opposed to TTIP because:
  • ISDS makes democracy ineffective at both national and EU levels.
  • It undermines established protections
  • It strengthens corporate power over us, our trade and our governments.
  • It will make liberalisation and privatisation 'one way streets': returning public utilities, hospitals or waste collection to the public sector once privatised will be much more difficult or even impossible once the agreement is in place.

The grey response to TTIP
It’s no surprise that UKIP, the Tories and LibDems support it – they favour greater corporate power and the only way they think we can compete is precisely by ‘racing to the bottom’, that is, abandoning our hard-won protections let alone the possibility of more in the future.

Labour attitude is harder to understand – it says it will support TTIP provided that its support for privatisation doesn’t cover the NHS. This assumes that only the NHS must be kept in the public sector, that it’s possible to draft TTIP so that it excludes the NHS and that Labour would recognise such a draft. I regard each of these assumptions as absurd.

But it’s worth asking why some otherwise sensible people support TTIP. I see two reasons – one public and one concealed. The public reason is that TTIP will make trade easier and that neoliberal theory says that that will make us all richer. But the theory is not true. Increases in trade may increase wealth but almost all of that extra wealth now goes to the rich – leaving the rest of us with lower wages and worse conditions. Just greater inequality.

Which suggests the concealed reason. It’s been a long-standing complaint by British business that the EU’s open market in goods allows the Germans and French to sell us products but the lack of openness in services stops our service businesses – our leading sectors – from selling into the rest of the EU.  And the leading service sector is, of course, banking!

So maybe it’s the bankers who really want TTIP. What a surprise!

The Green response
Elected Greens in the European Parliament and here in the UK are working hard to resist TTIP – with some success. The Green Party will do everything in its power – working with others at home and abroad – to prevent this damaging, dangerous and undemocratic agreement from coming into force.

The Green Party is the only major UK political party to oppose TTIP.

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