If you haven’t heard of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership don’t worry – you’re not really meant to have. The TTIP is a series of trade negotiations, primarily for the purpose of cutting tariffs and regulatory barriers to trade between the US and EU, making the access to each other’s markets easier for companies. But there are barely any trade barriers between the EU-US anyway, so what’s really going on?
Big corporate businesses are forever complaining that they are being strangled by “red tape”, known as the regulatory laws. They complain it slows down their development and provides too many bureaucratic obstacles for routine procedures. The British government claims the removal of these barriers could add £10bn to the UK economy, £80bn to the US and £100bn to the EU every year.
Shoppers would benefit by the removal of EU import tariffs on popular goods and reducing regulation would help UK businesses export to the US, opening up restrictive markets by which smaller businesses could excel. Should we let them have it all their own way, so they can maximise profit-making schemes, what would be the harm? Well, potentially quite a lot actually.
The TTIP’s agenda seeks to harmonise EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of US. The problem is the disparity in regulatory law – the US restrictions are less severe, with 70% of process foods sold in supermarkets containing genetically modified ingredients, whereas the EU allows virtually no GM foods. Furthermore, the US allows more leeway with the restrictions on the use of pesticides and the use of hormones in certain meats which are disallowed in the EU due to the supposed medical problems. So whilst the food businesses would be able to experiment and bring new products to market, you might have to second guess the last bite of that burger.
Concerning the environment, the EU’s regulations are much stricter concerning potentially toxic substances – you have to prove a substance is safe before it can be used; whereas in the US, any substance can be used until it is proved unsafe. I suppose America really is the land of the free.
Before feeling victimised, the TTIP works both ways, so the US has to lower their standards in some places – we aren’t letting the Americans have it all their own way. The UK is seeking a loosening of America’s banking regulations, which have been previously toughened following the financial crisis.
The scrutiny of the agreement faces the most contention concerning its undemocratic nature. The introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) would allow companies to sue governments if their policies cause a loss of profits. Will this really adhere to effective government? Unelected corporations could effectively dictate the policies of government, undermining the ability to act in the interests of their citizens. Then again, Liza Minnelli did once sing, ‘money makes the world go round’.
Such an example can be seen in other similar trade agreements around the world and have led to such injustices as Swedish energy company Vattenfall suing the German government for billions over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Energy corporations threatening government public health policies due to a potential loss of profits; is there anything less democratic?
These ISDSs will have their complete own judicial system. The cases will be taken in secret, without any third party standing, no judicial review and no appeal. The Courts will be taken on by corporate lawyers, who work for the corporations involved. Is there anything else they want to add to the list?
If all of this makes you feel sceptical and uneasy quickly vote against the TTIP! There’s just one problem, you can’t. We, as citizens, have next to no say as to whether the agreement goes through or not. Available options include signing the opposition petition circulating and potentially writing a response to the EU Commission if you feel so strongly. Masses have chosen to do so, which in turn has forced the trade agreement negotiations out into the open, whereas they were previously sliding under the radar. Such collectivised support has emphasised a growing discontent towards the rapacious agreements, and provide perhaps a smidge of hope that the voice of the many people may be heard.
By Dre Efthymiou