TTIP could be the end of our independence
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the ultimate threat to Britain’s economic and political sovereignty, argues CALUM BAIRD
AS the new EU Commission takes office, a final push is being made to secure agreement to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — a treaty that gives big business on both sides of the Atlantic radically greater control over markets for goods, services and labour. In doing so, disagreements between the proposed partners are becoming more apparent.
US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner recently met members of the EU Parliament.
The following day Britain and ministers representing 13 other EU states, most traditional US allies, issued a statement calling for the inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, a key demand of US big business but opposed by France and Germany.
The statement was in response to that made to the EU Parliament by the new commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that he “will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU member states be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes … there is no obligation” to include ISDS.
“In the agreement that my commission will eventually submit to this house for approval there will be nothing that limits for the parties the access to national courts or that will allow secret courts to have the final say in disputes between investors and states.”
Germany and France want greater access to US markets, including the US’s much cheaper oil and gas. But they do not want US corporations and investment banks taking over key parts of their highly productive export industries — hence the power play over the ISDS clause.
So what is TTIP? The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a free trade agreement being negotiated between the imperialist powers of the Western world.
Negotiations began last year and TTIP is designed to cut away so-called “red tape” that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) couldn’t cut through.
Champions of the deal boast that it will save £120 billion a year and bring in 0.5 per cent growth to eurozone economies.
However, any socialist and trade unionist worth their salt should know that when the capitalist class starts talking “red tape” that that is a death knell for health and safety and conditions at work, as well as to workers’ wages.
Indeed, Britain’s largest trade union Unite recognised these and other threats when it adopted a resolution at its congress earlier this year calling for widespread opposition to the trade agreement which is a direct threat to social, working and environmental standards across Europe and the US, such is the level of deregulation involved.
As well as threatening people’s rights in work and the environment, TTIP threatens what is left of democracy under capitalism with the inclusion of the ISDS clause.
This clause allows any investor to sue a government if the investor feels they are being blocked from making profit. These disputes would be settled in closed, international and “independent courts” led by business “experts.”
The reasons why this is bad for democracy should be clear. If a government comes to power with a policy of public ownership of industry, energy and transport, this agenda is directly threatened by TTIP.
The capitalist hawks looking to profit from public services can sue the democratically elected and sovereign government on the grounds of “harming profits.”
What’s more, in the event of two bids for a public service, the ISDS clause allows the losing bidder to sue the government on the same grounds.
The inclusion of this clause has already alarmed the governments of France and Germany where the Socialists in France and the Social Democrats within Angela Merkel’s coalition fear dire electoral consequences unless they are seen to oppose.
In Britain, shockingly, the government has failed to raise the issue of the NHS.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has castigated Vince Cable for claiming the NHS was not at risk when the government’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act opens key areas to private contractors.
However, the danger with focusing opposition to the ISDS clause is that campaigners and political parties are setting the bar far too low.
At present there are many campaigns looking to exclude the National Health Service and other basic services from the deal, and Labour has pledged to ask that the NHS be protected from this deal.
Yet TTIP is about far more than public services. It is aimed at driving down wages and conditions at work so as to boost profits. This is why Unite is correct to call for outright opposition to all aspects of TTIP.
There has already begun a softening-up of any resistance to TTIP both in and out of the workplace.
The so-called “gagging Bill,” which was passed earlier in September, directly attacks trade union and charity campaigning rights.
The introduction and widespread use of zero-hours contracts in all sectors of the economy is a deliberate ploy to casualise work and break up collective positions and hard-fought terms of trade unions, as well as trampling over already watered-down law at trade union level, such as the Working Time Directive.
Consequently, trade unionists and progressives should be wary of falling for caveat promises surrounding the NHS, which are designed to appease opposition.
TTIP should be unconditionally opposed along with any other form of privatisation that seeks to destroy wages, health and safety and environmental standards.