How a new transatlantic trade deal threatens our food standards, the environment, public services and democracy itself.
By Susanne Schuster
Since July 2013 the European Union and the USA have been in talks for the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”, abbreviated TTIP. The expressed intention is to establish a Transatlantic Free Trade Area, TAFTA, between the countries of the EU and the United States – which will create the largest and most powerful trading bloc on earth.
TTIP will give huge new powers to transnational corporations. It threatens to undermine public control of services like the NHS and education, to erode environmental and food safety protection, to encourage controversial technologies like GM and fracking, and to give big business sweeping new powers to write and challenge law.
If this legislation comes into force the rights of investors will take precedence over the protection of our health, the environment and social rights. The rights of corporations will have higher priority than the sovereignty of states.
The proponents of TTIP claim that this trade deal will lead to massive job creation and economic growth. However, this promise is not even supported by the EU Commission's own figures. A similar agreement between the USA and Mexico (NAFTA) led to a net loss of 1 million jobs and declining wages in both countries.
TTIP is driven by the interests of big business which is desperate for new markets and profit growth in a time of saturated and depressed markets. The negotiations are taking place behind closed doors and are dominated heavily by corporate lobbyists. One of the most shocking aspects is a provision that would allow corporations to sue governments for loss of future profits, which is already happening under a number of existing trade deals around the world.
Some of the greatest divergences in the trade relations between the EU and the US are found in the area of consumer and food safety and environmental protection, and the small farmers movement GRAIN has looked at what is at stake for EU citizens in terms of food safety. The EU currently bans beef and pork treated with growth hormones or growth promoters and chlorine washed chickens. The EU also requires labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and has many bans in place on the cultivation of GM plants. The US wants these bans removed. The US also wants the EU to refrain from banning chemicals like Bisphenol A that act as endocrine disruptors. A striking fact emerging from this report is the much higher rate of food poisoning and E.coli contamination in the US.
A report by Friends of the Earth Europe illustrates how TTIP will undermine any efforts to build healthier, more equitable and sustainable food systems, including initiatives both in the EU and US that promote healthier, more sustainable school meals.
A fundamental pillar of EU policy is the precautionary principle, which is threatened by TTIP; it requires that caution is exercised before any substance is approved, if it is unclear what harm it may cause. This doesn't apply in the US: The government has to provide scientific evidence that a substance is harmful, before any caution or restriction is applied.
All of this raises many questions for those trying to live a sustainable lifestyle and follow a healthy and balanced diet, and who are concerned about where the food on our plates is coming from and how it was raised. How will TTIP affect our choices when it comes to buying equitably traded, nutritious and uncontaminated food?
Fortunately, citizens' groups all over the EU are campaigning vigorously against TTIP and promoting alternatives such as food sovereignty. The forthcoming EU elections on 22 May offer an opportunity to vote for candidates opposing this trade deal. Also, on 12 July a day of action against TTIP will take place all over the UK, coordinated by a coalition of groups including the World Development Movement.
One thing is for sure: TTIP is a bad deal for citizens in every respect.
Recommended further reading on TTIP:
WDM – Briefing on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
TTIP-TAFTA – The Sellout of our Democracy
Corporate Europe Observatory
Originally published on Sussex Green Living Blog
By Susanne Schuster
You must have heard of the latest attempt to create a free trade area between the EU and the USA, haven't you? The topic has hardly been covered in the mainstream media and European citizens have been told almost nothing about the explosive content of this planned free trade agreement. However, digging a bit deeper in the alternative media to find out what is really at stake sparks an almighty rage. If our parliamentary representatives took their task seriously and possessed a spark of integrity then all their alarm bells should ring. Because this “free trade agreement” constitutes a frontal attack on our democracy, or rather, what is left of it.
In July of this year the official negotiations for the so called “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”, abbreviated TTIP, were started. The expressed intention is to have signed an agreement by the end of 2014 to establish a Transatlantic Free Trade Area, TAFTA, between the USA and the EU.
The official propaganda states that this treaty is about harmonising standards – with large corporations and investors determining what these standards should be. In plain language harmonising standards means a race to the lowest standards, so that US corporations will be able to sell their GMO rubbish, chlorinated chickens, hormone pigs and cattle on the EU market. If these standards are not complied with, states are threatened with sanctions for an unlimited period of time or gigantic compensation claims. More on that below.
Above all, the “free trade agreement” is about the removal of any remaining so called “trade barriers” (tariffs between the USA and EU have largely been abolished); that is, such tiresome things for big business such as labour rights, health & safety and social legislation, food and product safety standards, environmental and climate protection measures, financial market regulation. In short: all those things that make the lives of ordinary working people bearable.
The negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, so that common folk won't notice what is really at stake. On the other hand 600 official “consultants” from large corporations have privileged access to the negotiations to bring in their ideas.
Lori Wallach states: “There is a simple reason for this secrecy. Such a treaty would oblige national governments including local administrations to adapt their current and future domestic policies to a comprehensive system of rules. This treaty would codify legislative requirements negotiated at a diplomatic level, which at the request of the corporations would apply to many non trade related areas, such as the safety and labelling of foods, the maximum values for chemical and toxic contamination, the health system and the pricing of medicines, the right to internet privacy, energy supply and cultural 'services', patents and copyrights, use of land and resources, the rights and employment opportunities of immigrants, public procurement and many other things.”1
Arguably the most outrageous aspect of this treaty is that corporations can sue the living daylights out of states and authorities that have breached the rules, through an arbitration court dominated by a small clique of corporate lawyers. The corporations can sue states and authorities for compensation payments if the courts find that “expected future profits” are reduced because of certain measures such as environmental regulations and social rights. Under US free trade treaties more than $ 400 million of taxpayers' money has already been paid in compensation to corporations that went to court over bans of toxic substances, licensing rules, laws on water protection and forest use and other “anti investment” rules.2 For example, under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Area) the Canadian government was sued by the manufacturer of a cancer causing additive in fuel for $ 250 million in “lost business opportunities and interference with trade” because it had banned the additive. Fearing that it would lose the case, the Canadian government lifted the ban, declared the additive as “safe” and paid the manufacturer $ 10 million compensation.3
It is therefore clear that if this legislation comes into force the rights of investors will take precedence over the protection of our health, the environment and social rights. The rights of corporations will have higher priority than the sovereignty of states. In other words: the last scraps of democracy will be abolished.
Michael Parenti has summarised it perfectly in relation to existing treaties: “But let it be repeated: what also is overthrown is the right to have such laws. This is the most important point of all and the one most frequently overlooked by persons from across the political spectrum. Under the free trade accords, corporate investment rights have been upraised to imperial supremacy, able to take precedent over all other rights, including the right to a clean, livable environment, the right to affordable public services, and the right to any morsel of political-economic democracy. Under the banner of 'free trade,' corporate property rights are elevated above all democratic rights.”4
What for? The establishment of the transatlantic free trade area is justified by the tired, old and unfounded mantra of economic growth and job creation as well as wealth for all. However, the projected economic gain is negligible. Based on the – optimistic and probably made up out of thin air – estimates of the EU commission, the average EU household would have an extra 500 euro annually, or 42 euro per month5, which I bet will be eaten up by the rising cost of living in no time at all. It's a joke!
There are completely different interests behind the treaty. The markets for many products and services in the private sector are saturated. For example, the US market for GMO soy and corn is almost exhausted for Monsanto. How on earth should permenent profit growth be generated to satisfy the expected return on investment by greedy shareholders? By new markets, of course, and by selling more stuff. Capital is constantly forced to create new spheres of investment, until it has penetrated all corners of the world and turned them into a commodity. For the vast majority of the world's population and the environment this would be a disaster of gigantic dimensions. We can only stop this development if we become totally conscious of this looming catastrophe and resist with determination and vigour. We have to value any – still remaining – public space and public goods and services, and defend them tooth and nail. We need some serious action, so let's fight and protest.
1 Lori Wallach, TAFTA – die große Unterwerfung, Le Monde Diplomatique, 8.1.2013 http://www.monde-diplomatique.de/pm/2013/11/08/a0003.text
2 Lori Wallach, TAFTA – die große Unterwerfung, Le Monde Diplomatique, 8.1.2013 http://www.monde-diplomatique.de/pm/2013/11/08/a0003.text
3 Michael Parenti, The Face of Imperialism, Paradigm 2011, S. 64
4 ibid. P. 71
5 Silvia Liebrich, Es geht um mehr als nur Zölle, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11.11.2013 http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/freihandelsabkommen-zwischen-usa-und-eu-es-geht-um-mehr-als-nur-zoelle-1.1815472
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
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