John Healey MP recently argued the case for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on LabourList, saying that the left should lead the fight for a fair deal. This was in part a response to the unanimous vote at TUC Congress pledging to oppose TTIP and other ‘free trade’ treaties such as CETA, the Canadian version of TTIP and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Trade unions and many others in civil society are highly sceptical of the claims John and other supporters of TTIP make for these agreements.
A key cause of concern is that the central objective of these treaties is to raise de-regulation to a global platform; they’re not, as is commonly claimed, about tariff reduction; tariffs are in reality already at an historic low. TTIP is a platform for the corporatisation of global trade in both goods and services and with it will come the undermining of democratic government and the ability of national governments to pursue a self-determined economic path. The TTIP zone covers a region accounting for 60% of global GDP, 33% of world trade in goods and 42% of world trade in services.
The scope of the proposed agreement is determined on a negative list system, ensuring that all areas not explicitly excluded from the Agreement are by default ‘in’. This is a shift away from the previous ‘positive list’ approach in which only those areas explicitly included were within scope and all others excluded. This approach has allowed our National Health Service, transport services, utilities and other essential public services to be included. Put simply these will be ‘up for grabs’ in a deregulated free market.
The Americans also want to see the de-regulation of the EU agriculture and food sectors so they can foist hormone-treated beef, chlorinated poultry and GM cereals and salmon on unwilling Europeans. Market de-regulation between the two largest global blocs, will mean that third parties who wish to trade with the TTIP zone would be obliged to ensure that their markets are also de-regulated.
More worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation train into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to ‘free trade’. And it will all be done behind closed doors in secret. Corporates can then go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of ‘free trade’ and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.
Such is the outcry at ISDS, the European Commission has been forced into a public consultation that has seen an unprecedented 150,000 submissions. Rather than addressing growing public outrage however, the Commission has moved to initial the CETA treaty with Canada, which also contains ISDS provisions, before it has bothered to carry out any analysis of the consultation of ISDS in TTIP. It has further disgracefully said it will disregard any ‘duplicate’ submissions, thereby deleting all those that came about as a result of the efforts of 38 Degrees and War on Want.
Not only does this show contempt for the European public but it will shortly allow US corporations, through their Canadian subsidiaries, to initiate action against EU member states irrespective of ISDS being contained within TTIP. Given this sleight of hand by the Commission it is hard to see how assurances on the exemption NHS from ISDS given to John Healey are credible.
Lord Howe, Health Minister, is very clear on the UK Government’s position – to exclude health from TTIP would be, according to Howe, a mistake. We are also clear. It’s not just about future deregulation. With public services already contracted out, privatised, de-regulated or subject to private sector commissioning it’s about our absolute right as a nation to bring back public services – under public control.
We are also rightly concerned about efforts to secure the ‘mutual recognition’ of standards and regulation. In an open ‘free market’ a sledge hammer will be taken to long fought-for labour protections. Removal of so called ‘burdens’ that inhibit free competition and profits will be the driving force in a completive market.
In the context of the TUC decision, John Healey points out that, “all 28 member states of the EU are signatories to the fundamental ILO conventions”. However, at a fringe meeting on TTIP during Congress, Ben Davis of the US union USW made the point that the US will not ratify the ILO core conventions “in our lifetime”. A large majority of US Republicans in Congress have said that if TTIP is used to smuggle in Euro style labour rights to the US they will vote against it.
In any event it’s hard to see what could be agreed on labour rights that would lead to any raising of standards that are so urgently needed in the UK. Margaret Thatcher may not have renounced ILO Conventions; she didn’t need to. She passed a series of laws in the 1980s that have effectively taken British workers outside the protection of those Conventions. Cameron would surely not dismantle the system put in place by his hero.
The Lisbon Treaty created the procedure for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that allows campaigning groups that can organise a million signatories to a petition within a year, to force the Commission to formally respond to their request and hold a public hearing in the European Parliament. Last week, the Commission rejected the proposal to allow an ECI on TTIP and CETA. This decision prevents European citizens from forcing the Commission to review its policy on the treaties and to hold a hearing in the European Parliament.
TTIP is about democratic control of nations being subservient to control by global corporations. Not only are the negotiations in secret, not only will ISDS establish secret courts but the denial of the European Citizens’ Initiative will ensure that there is no public or parliamentary oversight of the process.
Congress was right to oppose the deal and Unite will continue to work with our sister unions and other campaigning groups to fight TTIP, CETA, TISA and any other trade agreement that threatens to undermine the democracy of Governments and their citizens, workers and consumers and operates only in the interests of global capital.
Steve Turner is the Assistant General Secretary at Unite