#TTIP the hidden threat to British sovereignty, #health, #education, and YOU (#UK #Politics #NHS)

ttipYou may never have heard of TTIP (especially if you are a Daily Mail reader) – the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ – and that’s because the government wants as few people as possible to know about this highly secretive deal which will have a negative impact on every part of our society.

TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, health services, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.

Reducing regulatory barriers means that the negotiations are attempting to reduce legal requirements for corporations to conduct business between the US and EU to the lowest legal standard.

For example, if the US has a lower regulatory standard for chemical waste than the EU, then the lower US standard will be applied to US businesses who want to operate in other partner territories – effectively wiping out the ability of the host nation to enforce its own laws and standards – and vice versa.

The Executive Summary of War On Want’s publication on the TTIP describes it as:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated– in secret – between the European Union and the USA. The intention to launch TTIP negotiations was first announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in February 2013, and the first round of negotiations took place between European Commission and US officials in July of the same year. The aim is to rush through the talks as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the USA find out the true scale of the TTIP threat.

As officials from both sides acknowledge, the primary aim of TTIP is not to stimulate trade through removing tariffs between the EU and USA, as these are already at minimal levels. The main goal of TTIP is, by their own admission, to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. The stakes, in other words, could not be higher.

In addition to this deregulation agenda, TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services and government procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, such as health and education. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions.

This ‘investor-State dispute settlement’ mechanism effectively elevates transnational capital to a status equivalent to the nation-state itself, and threatens to undermine the most basic principles of democracy in the EU and USA alike.

TTIP is therefore correctly understood not as a negotiation between two competing trading partners, but as an attempt by transnational corporations to prise open and deregulate markets on both sides of the Atlantic.

There is a growing body of concern among EU and US citizens at the threats posed by TTIP, and civil society groups are now joining forces with academics, parliamentarians and others to prevent pro-business government officials from signing away the key social and environmental standards listed above. All people are encouraged to join this resistance by getting in touch with their local campaigns – or starting their own.

Since before TTIP negotiations began last February, the process has been secretive and undemocratic. This secrecy is on-going, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests.

One of the disturbing aspects of TTIP is that is places corporations above soverign law.

Under the provision ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) a corporation can sue a state for loss of income as a result of public policy decisions. In other words, if a country passes a law or regulation which inhibits an aspect of a company’s business they automatically have the right to sue that country for compensation. Effectively the corporate interest would be able to challenge sovereign power.

The provisions of the ISDS also allows companies to bypass local legal systems and take their case directly to international arbitration tribunals – which will consist of corporate lawyers acting in closed hearings and who have a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.

Some of the ways which the TTIP will affect the UK are outlined in an article by The Independent’s Lee Williams, ‘What is TTIP? And six reasons why it should scare you’.

1 The NHS

Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS.

The European Commission has claimed that public services will be kept out of TTIP. However, according to the Huffington Post, the UK Trade Minister Lord Livingston has admitted that talks about the NHS were still on the table.

[Note: The Health and Social Care Act has been seen as a precursor to opening up the NHS to private investors through opening up a wider range of health services to private bidding]

2 Food and environmental safety

TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda will seek to bring EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70 per cent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients. By contrast, the EU allows virtually no GM foods. The US also has far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides. It also uses growth hormones in its beef which are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. US farmers have tried to have these restrictions lifted repeatedly in the past through the World Trade Organisation and it is likely that they will use TTIP to do so again.

The same goes for the environment, where the EU’s REACH regulations are far tougher on potentially toxic substances. In Europe a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used; in the US the opposite is true: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. As an example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12.

3 Banking regulations

TTIP cuts both ways. The UK, under the influence of the all-powerful City of London, is thought to be seeking a loosening of US banking regulations. America’s financial rules are tougher than ours. They were put into place after the financial crisis to directly curb the powers of bankers and avoid a similar crisis happening again. TTIP, it is feared, will remove those restrictions, effectively handing all those powers back to the bankers.

4 Privacy

Remember ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)? It was thrown out by a massive majority in the European Parliament in 2012 after a huge public backlash against what was rightly seen as an attack on individual privacy where internet service providers would be required to monitor people’s online activity.  Well, it’s feared that TTIP could be bringing back ACTA’s central elements, proving that if the democratic approach doesn’t work, there’s always the back door. An easing of data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials are also thought to be on the cards.

5 Jobs

The EU has admitted that TTIP will probably cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. It has even advised EU members to draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment.

Examples from other similar bi-lateral trade agreements around the world support the case for job losses.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico caused the loss of one million US jobs over 12 years, instead of the hundreds of thousands of extra that were promised.

6 Democracy

TTIP’s biggest threat to society is its inherent assault on democracy. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.

ISDSs are already in place in other bi-lateral trade agreements around the world and have led to such injustices as in Germany where Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Here we see a public health policy put into place by a democratically elected government being threatened by an energy giant because of a potential loss of profit. Nothing could be more cynically anti-democratic.

There are around 500 similar cases of businesses versus nations going on around the world at the moment and they are all taking place before ‘arbitration tribunals’ made up of corporate lawyers appointed on an ad hoc basis, which according to War on Want’s John Hilary, are “little more than kangaroo courts” with “a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.”

Since coming to power, we have already seen the government’s intention to privatise every aspect of our social structure – farming our valuable services to private companies in the name of profit.

The TTIP is another step to destroying the foundations of our society which should be based in the concept of good quality care for everyone – regardless of their financial or social status.

In addition to giving corporations the ability to mess up public services, the TTIP allows them to dictate their own legal processes and outcomes.

The majority of the British public oppose privatisation of public services: 84% believe the NHS should be run in the public sector; two-thirds say the same about railways, energy and the Royal Mail.

But as we have learned, the government in power at the moment does not see representing the public or making decisions in the public interest as its role. It is more focused on its self-interests and greed.

The only way the public are able to oppose this highly secretive and manipulative partnership is through lobbying and protest. You have no vote – the organisers have made sure of that.

We will conclude this article on this diabolical scheme with a paragraph from the War On Want report:

Ultimately, TTIP is an agreement designed to benefit transnational corporations from the EU and USA seeking to expand their market access and to engineer the removal of regulations that restrict their profits. Suggestions by some commentators that the agreement could be turned into a positive force for raising standards on both sides of the Atlantic fail to recognize its genesis, its content or the deregulatory agenda at its heart. For this reason, the call from civil society in response to the negotiations is to stop TTIP and replace it with an alternative trade mandate that puts people and the planet before corporate profit. All progressive forces in Europe, the USA and elsewhere are encouraged to join this call.

The following websites include sections dedicated to campaigns, news and critical studies on TTIP:

  • bilaterals.org – includes all the latest TTIP news
  • s2bnetwork.org – the Seattle to Brussels Network (EU)
  • citizen.org – Public Citizen (US)
  • sierraclub.org – Sierra Club (US)

Other sites of interest:

38 Degrees petition and campaign

Stop TTIP
Follow @martynjsymons

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