The threat of the US-EU trade deal
Friday 28th Februay 2014
The TTIP will allow companies to control governments, writes JEREMY CORBYN
An ominous veil of secrecy surrounds negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a sweeping trade deal between the European Union and United States.
Members of national and European parliaments, like their counterparts in the US Congress, have been kept in the dark about the details.
What we do know is that its backers claim that the eventual agreement will boost economic jobs and create vast numbers of new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
It is claimed that economic growth will be increased by 0.5 per cent a year by 2027 as a result of this deal.
There is no hard evidence to back up such figures, but we know for certain that there are going to be big prices to pay along the way.
In the Commons this week there was a rare discussion by parliamentarians on the potential impact of the TTIP.
Front benchers were keen to press the idea that fewer barriers between the US and Europe would be an overwhelmingly good thing.
But there were also serious concerns voiced on the power of corporate lobbyists to undermine parliamentary democracy because the deal will allow them to demand and exercise commercial “rights” that over-ride national sovereignty when it comes to public services and other areas of policy.
Paisley & Renfrewshire North MP Jim Sheridan expressed concern that “the TTIP will allow companies to wield control over national governments and in the long run may not help those we’re told it will.
“We should have an agreement that helps ordinary people and not big corporations,” he said.
The disastrous experience of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) between Canada, Mexico and the US provides cause for deep concern about the TTIP.
Then, as now, it was promoted as having the potential to create millions of jobs.
In fact Nafta has resulted in job losses and a race to the bottom as US farm exports flood into Mexico and US companies transfer operations to their poorer neighbour to exploit lower wage rates.
Today there is huge opposition in all three countries to Nafta.
War on Want, in an excellent briefing on the TTIP, characterised the deal not as a negotiation between two competing trading partners, but as “an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations seeking to remove regulatory barriers to their activities on both sides of the Atlantic.”
This is not a traditional trade agreement but it is all about deregulating society, removing social standards and environmental regulations and ensuring that public services are opened up to private enterprise.
The secrecy surrounding its contents is so great that not even government officials from EU member states have been allowed to see the documents up front.
Eventually a final agreement will be released and will be imposed on citizens of EU member states and the US.
The omens are not good.
The negotiators see collective labour agreements as a challenge and restriction on business.
The US has refused to sign most International Labour Organisation conventions on core standards including freedom of association and the right to organise, so it’s hard to see where the TTIP is leading to other than a transatlantic attack on trade unions.
Rights at work, the working time directive, health and safety legislation, redundancy payments and employment protection were all hard-fought-for gains by trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now all this may be put at risk in a levelling down of protections.
Food standards are also threatened, with enormous pressure from US-based global brands to water down European legislation on GM crops, food safety and animal welfare.
But the biggest prize of all for those who stand to gain from TTIP are our public services.
Currently the NHS is required to provide health care free at the point of use for everyone.
So far Britain’s Tories have retained that principle, but they have built on a lot of what new Labour was trying to do in “opening up” the NHS to private-sector companies.
Already US health companies are lining up in the hunt for big profits by running sections of the NHS with fewer staff earning lower wages and on worse conditions.
The threat posed to health services is similar in other European countries, yet tellingly the EU has not sought to exclude health from the TTIP negotiations.
Public debate on the deal remains strangely absent, but it remains possible that strong trade union opposition to assaults on working conditions could significantly alter the process of negotiations.
It’s also quite possible that the more isolationist elements in the US Congress will seek to block its passage.
What’s certain, though, is that the stakes are extremely high.
The EU is continuing to pursue its central goal of being a place where big business has free rein to operate.
At the same time US corporations are eyeing up a greater global role.
And from what little has penetrated the veil of secrecy surrounding negotiations, it appears increasingly that any potential positives for workers, and on environmental issues and public services are being sidelined in favour of greedy bankers and multinationals which see vast profits to be made.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.