Transnational corporations may soon be given the right to bring law suits against European governments in secret tribunals if they believe that laws and regulations will interfere with their corporate interests or reduce their profits.

Unlike traditional free trade agreements, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in secret between the EU and the US is not designed to remove border tariffs, those went long ago. Instead it is aimed at removing regulatory ‘barriers’ within nation states. This will be done through the use of so called ‘Investor State Dispute Settlements’ (ISDS) and have already been used to subvert democracy and the rule of law in other free trade zones. The ‘barriers’ that corporations have in mind to dismantle include food safety laws, environmental protections and workers’ rights. TTIP also has the potential to open up our public services, in particular health and education, to foreign companies in an unprecedented new wave of privatisation. In other words governance by national parliaments and the democratic process will be permitted, but only to the point where the CEOs and boards of large corporations say that it’s ok.

The TTIP negotiations were never intended to be made public. The German Green party (alarmed at the prospect of large scale environmental deregulations) leaked a draft copy in March 2014 and since then opposition has been growing steadily across Europe. The scale of the threat posed by TTIP, however, has not yet entered the mainstream of public consciousness.
NIPSA Global Solidarity Committee organised an awareness event on Thursday 29th January with keynote speaker John Hilary, Executive Director, War-on-Want.

 

The public services and protections that are under threat if the TTIP deal is agreed include:

The NHS: In addition to opening up NHS contracts to US private health insurers it will become impossible for any future government to reverse the privatisation of NHS services without compensating private health firms for the loss of their projected profits.

Food safety: Currently the European Union restricts the sale of US beef treated with growth hormones linked to cancer in humans; ‘regulatory convergence’ could make these restrictions illegal. Similarly endocrine disruptors, widely used in pesticides in US food production and which can damage the human hormone system would no longer be restricted to the level currently allowed in the EU thereby permitting US food imports currently deemed unsafe to be sold in the UK and Ireland.

Environmental protection: If the Northern Ireland Executive makes a decision to refuse the use of hydraulic fracking by foreign companies, those companies could avail of ISDS to sue the Executive for the loss of projected profits. Also current EU environmental regulations introduced in 2007 requires industry to prove that a chemical is safe before it is used, whereas in the US a substance has to be proved unsafe before its use can be restricted. The result is the US currently prohibits 12 substances from use in cosmetics while the EU bans 1200. Any ‘regulatory convergence’ in environmental protection will undoubtedly be at the lowest common denominator.

Public health: When Australia attempted to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes the tobacco giant Philip Morris turned to ISDS to sue the Australian government. Philip Morris arbitrated under the terms of their free trade agreement with the US due to the potential impact on cigarette sales.

Labour rights: Harmonisation of EU and US labour laws would inevitably lead to a downgrading of collective bargaining agreements and trade union recognition.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; it is not an exaggeration to say that TTIP has the potential to undermine both European and US democracy. According to John Hillary the Executive Director of War on Want,

“Perhaps the greatest threat posed by TTIP is that it seeks to grant transnational corporations the power to sue individual countries directly for losses suffered in their jurisdictions as a result of public policy decisions. This provision for ‘Investor-State dispute settlements’ (ISDS) is unparalleled in its implications, in that it elevates transnational capital to a legal status equivalent to that of the nation State.”

The Tories in Great Britain who are normally very vocal on the perceived loss of sovereignty to the European Union, strangely, have nothing at all to say regarding the very real prospect of handing over sovereignty to foreign corporations. And it is the issue of loss of sovereignty that MPs find hardest to defend when written to by constituents.

Add your voice and sign the petition on War On Wants website  the pan-European campaign to stop TTIP.

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