Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Never Mind Trump or the EU Referendum: TTIP is the Real Threat to our Democracy

by James Stuart-James

TTIP: a Trojan horse?
Over the last few months and years, the media has looked upon loud-mouthed individuals like Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, and Donald Trump, American presidential candidate and (presumed) multi-billionaire, in order to set the media agenda of the day. As a result, a growth of societal division has been able to emerge as more and more people drift increasingly to the extreme right of the political spectrum. Consequently, matters that once would never have been taken into question are now being taken seriously.

Before the rise of UKIP as a credible party, a matter of referendum was completely out of the question with only a few Conservative backbenchers standing in favour of it. Now, we face a referendum in just under a month, with the latest BBC polls consistently placing the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ campaigns at close odds with one another; indeed, plenty of polls are turning towards the ‘Leave’ direction. 

In the meantime, Trump has been able to bend the rules of what is acceptable at any turn with the only true opposition coming in the form of futile ‘PC outrage’ as the Democratic Party fails to offer substantial resistance due to its own state of disarray at the hands of establishment corruption. While more evidence comes to light of Hillary Clinton’s private email server from which she hid almost four thousand potentially incriminating emails from the government as Secretary of State, Trump has decided that he is willing to kill the families of terrorists (i.e. a blatant act of terrorism towards civilians), banish 12 million people from the US (including those from up to fourth generation families) and endorse water-boarding and similar torture techniques (he will in fact do so “even if it doesn’t work”). 

However, while all this has been covered at least in part by mainstream media, there is one policy being decided behind closed doors that is much worse.

Chances are that most readers won’t recognise TTIP, but don’t worry: you aren’t meant to.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP for short, is a series of trade negotiations being discussed largely in secret between the UK and the EU and the US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP intends to reduce regulatory barriers to trade for big business, areas of which include food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.

John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, proclaimed TTIP to be “an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.” Since before TTIP negotiations began last February, the process has been secretive and, therefore, completely undemocratic. This secrecy is continuous, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from Freedom of Information requests and leaked documents.

However, worryingly, the covert nature of the talks may well be the least of our problems. Here are six other terrifying reasons why we should be scared of TTIP:

1. 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 USA. Note that US regulations are much less strict than ours currently, with 70 per cent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients. The EU currently allows virtually no GM foods. The USA also has fewer restrictions on the use of pesticides and uses growth hormones in its beef which are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. US farmers have been attempting to lift these restrictions repeatedly via the World Trade Organisation and it seems they will use TTIP to do so again.

The same applies to environmental matters. The EU’s REACH regulations are tougher on potentially toxic substances. In Europe, a company needs a substance to be proven safe before being used, whereas in the USA we have the opposite: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. Consequently, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics, while the USA only prohibits 12 of these substances.

2. The NHS
Public services, especially the NHS, are under threat. 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 claims that public services will be kept out of TTIP. However, the UK Trade Minister Lord Livingston has admitted that negotiations about the NHS are still taking place behind the scenes according to the Huffington Post.

3. Banking regulations
TTIP cuts both ways. The UK, under the influence of the City of London, is apparently seeking a loosening of US banking regulations. America’s financial rules are currently much stricter than ours. They were set up after the financial crisis to directly limit the powers of bankers and avoid a similar crisis happening again. It is therefore feared that TTIP will remove those restrictions, thus handing all those powers back to the bankers hence putting us at risk of another such crisis if bankers’ egos were to take hold once again.

4. Privacy
Do you remember ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)? It was banished by a massive majority in 2012 at the hands of the European Parliament after a public backlash against what was seen as an attack on individual privacy (arguably the most important aspect of all liberal theory) wherein internet service providers would monitor people’s online activity.  Well, it has been suggested that TTIP could be bringing back ACTA’s central elements, hence proving that if a democratic approach doesn’t suit your personal corporate interests, there’s always a back door. The loosening of data privacy laws and a potential restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials may also be at large.

5. Jobs
The EU has admitted themselves that TTIP will probably cause an increase in unemployment as jobs switch to the USA, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. It has even advised that EU members draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment.
There is evidence for this scenario from prior examples as other similar bi-lateral trade agreements around the world support the case for job losses.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was supported by the Presumptive Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton between the USA, Canada and Mexico resulted in a loss of one million US jobs over 12 years, instead of the mere hundreds of thousands that had been suggested would be lost beforehand.

6. Democracy
General issues with majoritive democracy in contrast to proportional representation aside, I would suggest that few would argue against democracy as a concept. Well, it seems that I am deluded as that is exactly what TTIP stands to accomplish in the long run, an inherent assault on democracy in favour of corporate profit. A primary aim of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). These enable companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. Essentially, this means that 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 several injustices. One such injustice is in Germany where Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, is suing the German government for several billions of dollars due to its decision to ‘phase out’ nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Hence we see here a policy with public health in mind put into place by a democratically elected government being threatened by an energy giant because of the potential loss of profit. In my opinion, very little could be more cynically anti-democratic than such a court case.

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. John Hillary from War on Want has termed these courts as “little more than kangaroo courts” which have “a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.”

Consequently, I would vote against TTIP immediately, except … I cannot. Neither I, nor any civilian has any say whatsoever in whether TTIP is passed.  I hope that as the EU Referendum passes (in which I maintain we ought to remain in the EU) and people see Trump’s delusions of grandeur for what they really are, ramblings of a far right winger on proverbial steroids; we shall then turn more attention to the issue of TTIP. We cannot prevent it from being passed but I know I would be willing to fight alongside members of any political movement that would seek to abolish it if it were to be brought into reality.

We may need to stomach this direct assault on democracy for now but we can at least oppose the silence that surrounds it.

1 comment:

  1. Benedict Blythe9 June 2016 at 15:05

    I believe that this is all true. One thing i was unaware of is that Trump has changed the rules how stuff works. Very useful and true.


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