During the campaign in the lead up to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, both ‘leave’ and ‘stay’ camps have made reference to TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), often in inappropriate and misleading ways.
Here we present a fairly simple explanation of what TTIP is, how it has progressed, and if it still has any presence in the future policies of the UK government.
Although negotiated through the EU, the UK government has played a pivotal role in developing crucial aspects of the proposed agreement, which it has ‘championed’ as a trade agreement – which is also misleading.
This is not a trade agreement in the traditional sense where parties agree on levies, taxes, and other financial initiatives to stimulate trade. This agreement is designed to change the legal and social framework in which trade between the parties takes place.
It challenges any law or regulation in the host country that does not enable foreign companies to conduct trade as they would in their country of origin.
In effect, this means that any company can require the host country to remove or change any law or regulation which could prevent the company from making profit as it would in its own country. It reduces regulatory restrictions to the lowest denominator between the signatories to the agreement.
It further permits companies established in the host country to also require that the government of the host country allow it to conduct business on an equal footing with foreign companies.
In effect, this means that the host country is forced to allow business to be conducted based on the lowest regulatory requirements – totally overriding that country’s sovereignty.
Under the agreement, if the host country inhibits or refuses companies to conduct their business in the manner stipulated in the partnership agreement the companies can take the government of the country to a special court and claim compensation.
This is called the ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ mechanism (ISDS), which will most likely be called an International Investment Court in the final agreement.
Such mechanisms have been in place since the early 1960s as part of various trade agreements, and are more a form of arbitration.
A few past cases are:
- French utility company, Veolia, is suing the Egyptian government for loss of profits as a result of the country’s decision to raise the minimum wage.
- US company Lone Pine is suing Canada for the ban on fracking in Quebec.
- US tobacco company Phillip Morris are suing Uruguay and Australia for enacting anti-smoking legislation.
Under TTIP, the proposals for the dispute settlement mechanism have expanded on previous mechanisms. As yet there is no final agreement so the terms and operation of the mechanism could change significantly.
The part of this that should concern UK citizens is that in EU negotiations many of the controversial elements which gave a strong bias towards corporations have been changed or removed – although the mechanism still remains a threat to member’s sovereignty.
The UK government, however, have proposed and lobbied for a system which is wholly bias in favour of corporations.
If the UK government were to implement an independent agreement now that the vote to leave the EU has been cast, we can be sure they will want to implement their own version of dispute resolution based on their previous proposals.
Public services, such as social care, welfare, health care, etc. are all under threat by the TTIP agreement. Under the agreement monopolies must be abolished, and public services were included.
So far, the EU negotiations have sought to protect public services from the agreement as most member states rejected the inclusion of public services, again, something the UK government was firmly against.
Even though including public services were effectively rejected by the majority of EU members, UK Trade Minister, Lord Livingston admitted that talks about the NHS (in particular) and its inclusion were still taking place.
In May of this year (2016) the UK government was forced to revise its position after an alliance of MPs from all parties (including the government’s own Conservative party) supported an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which would explicitly protect the NHS from the TTIP agreement.
Again, we can see the government’s intention is to make the agreement as advantageous for corporations as they can regardless of the cost to citizens and public services.
Considering the past history of the current UK government it is reasonable to assume that future trade agreements (which will have to be negotiated if the UK exits the EU) will be conducted along similar lines to the government’s input into the TTIP agreement and be a threat to public services and sovereignty.
Food and environmental safety and security is another area where TTIP would have a significant impact.
In the United States in the region of 70% of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients.
So far the EU has blocked the use of GM crops as a widespread form of agriculture, and food grown throughout the EU is subjected to much tighter regulations on the use of pesticides than the United States.
In the United States, giant corporations such as Monsanto have established themselves as sole providers of genetically modified seeds which farmers have no choice but to use under highly restrictive an unfair licensing conditions at a much higher costs than traditional non-GM crop seeds.
Monsanto is also the supplier of several pesticide products that have been banned across the EU.
In 2013 Monsanto was forced to withdraw all of its applications for approval of GM crops in the EU. This was because Monsanto continually failed to meet the basic safety requirements demanded by the EU.
In contrast the UK government has actively been pursuing the introduction of GM crops directly into the UK by attempting to implement an ‘opt-out’ of the EU ban.
Both the Environment Secretary of the time, Owen Paterson, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made several public statements supporting the introduction of GM crops into the UK during 2012, and again in 2014. The government has continued to release propaganda concerning GM crops through mainstream media on an irregular basis since then.
Many GM crops are entering the EU and the UK in the form of animal feeds, with meat and dairy products fed on GM not being labelled as GM fed. Other product which use GM products are entering the EU and UK in the form of commercial cooking oils, and other retail products.
As recently as July last year the UK government temporarily lifted an EU ban on the use of blacklisted pesticides linked to serious harm in bees and other pollinators. Controversy followed as it was revealed that the government had ordered its own advisors to postpone publishing a report criticising the decision.
Growth hormones are widely used in livestock in the United States, while their use in the EU is significantly restricted because of their link in contributing to the development of cancer cells in humans.
Personal privacy is another area where TTIP will allow companies and governments unprecedented power to collect and use data on its citizens.
Fortunately, the European Parliament has already blocked the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by a massive majority of its members which was proposed in 2012.
This agreement was very similar to the UK government’s Communication Data Bill which was rejected by parliament, but which the government keeps trying to introduce in repackaged form. The UK government’s proposal goes beyond the rejected EU agreement in that it contains many grey areas which the government can use to do as it wishes without redress for its citizens.
With the checks and balances, and the right of appeal removed from the government if the UK exits the EU, there is the potential for government abuse of its citizens, including restricting information citizens have access to, and severe penalties for attempting to access ‘unapproved’ information. This is worryingly similar to Chinese censorship laws.
Jobs will be at risk through the agreement. The US has much lower levels of protection and employment standards than EU countries. This includes working hours, leave, pay rates, and other benefits employees within the EU take for granted.
If TTIP were to be introduced the lower US standards would apply to US companies operating in the UK (or any other signatory state) and would eventually result in the lower standards being applied across the nation’s workforce under equal trading clauses in the agreement.
The UK government has already reduced much of the protection employees used to enjoy and ensured unions have become severely diluted in their power.
In recent times the government has proposed further restrictions on union strike action and has allowed the widespread use of draconian zero-hours contracts.
In exiting the EU UK employees will no longer have the protection of EU labour rights, including the Working Time Directive, and will no longer be able to seek redress through the EU for unfair and exploitative work contracts.
TTIP negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy, and many citizens have remained totally unaware of the proposed agreement or of the serious impact this will have on their lives.
During the recent ‘leave/stay’ EU campaigns TTIP has been falsely attributed solely to the EU, with no mention of the significant input the UK government has had in some of the most worrying aspects.
In fact, what exiting the EU means is that the government removes many of the restrictions on its activities, and remains free to negotiate its own agreements along similar lines – if not worse for UK citizens.
It has been widely stated that the UK will have to negotiate new trading partnerships – not only with EU partners but international partners such as the US too.
Considering the timescale for the UK to exit the EU, it is highly likely that we will see these agreements start to take effect over the next two years.
TTIP is more than just about facilitating mutually beneficial trade agreements. It is about changing society to maximise profits for corporations.
It is economic slavery which pushes boundaries beyond what is acceptable in making a profit.
“Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.”– George Bernard Shaw
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