This was published in today's Independent:
A vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in the European parliament was postponed today, sparking protest amongst a large number of anti TTIP MEPs. Earlier in the week, protesters gathered in Bavaria (despite aggressive police tactics) to protest against the G7 proposal to hand yet more powers to corporations at the expense of citizens. This is what TTIP would do and, despite over 2 million Europeans signing a petition to stop it, the G7 leaders have announced their intention to forge ahead with it anyway.
In the quest for profit at any cost, corporations strive for two things, new markets and deregulation. In reality, regulation is what keeps corporations, some of whom are richer and more powerful than countries, in check. The move in the US and the UK to deregulate financial markets was one of the main causal factors of the global financial crash. Regulation, however inconvenient to big businesses, has a crucial role in democracy and economic stability. It provides safeguards against exploitation and protects hard earned rights of the most vulnerable in society.
Critics are particularly concerned about the investor protection clause, known as ISDS. This allows corporations to sue governments for terminating a contract. A US health care provider, for example, could secure a contract to run an NHS hospital, however they want, irrespective of UK laws. If the public objected and the government intervened, they could be sued for the company’s loss of earnings. Running the hospital on the cheap will make more profit but cost more lives. Under TTIP, it’s the profit, not safety, that matters. There are legitimate concerns that this deal could make NHS privatisation irreversible.
It would allow US behemoths such as Monsanto, to put Independent farmers in many developing countries out of business. They cannot afford GM technology and would lose out to the bigger landowners. Eventually corporations like Monsanto will control all food production in these countries and wield far more power and control than is healthy.
MEP Yannick Jadot described ISDS as “a way of privatising justice to the detriment of our citizens". It puts companies above the law and justice system of the country in which they operate.
Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland who are in trade agreements which include this kind of investor-state relationship have been sued 127 times and lost the equivalent money that could have employed 300,000 nurses for a year. The government of Ecuador has just had to pay $2.3bn to Occidental Oil over its lawful termination of an oil concession. A Swedish energy company is using an ISDS clause in an energy treaty to sue the German government for €3.7bn following its decision to close its nuclear power stations in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Last month it was reported that the EU scrapped planned pesticide regulations under pressure from US officials citing TTIP. According to documents obtained by the Pesticides Action Network Europe, a visit from senior US officials to Europe in July 2013 resulted in the EU dropping planned regulations that could have led to the banning of 31 pesticides containing hazardous chemicals. The proposed regulations related to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been linked to cancer and male infertility. The health costs emerging from these toxic chemicals has been estimated at €150bn per year.
How will governments and MEPs justify this to their citizens? They don’t have to. Why consult with the public when the decision has already been made. In secret. The sheer lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations of TTIP alone should raise alarm bells. Key components of the negotiations are reportedly subject to a 30-year embargo on disclosure. How can that be possible in a supposedly democratic union? What is so incendiary that cannot be shared with the people on whom it will have the most impact, the public?
MEP Molly Scott Cato attempted to find out. In order to access the top secret TTIP negotiation files she had to sign a gagging clause which prohibits her from disclosing any of the information she unveiled. Something that is in the public domain however, is that 92% of those involved in the consultations have been corporate lobbyists. Of the 560 lobby encounters that the European commission had, 520 were with business lobbyists and only 26 were with public interest groups.
It isn’t just that TTIP allows for further exploitation of citizens by corporations. The process itself, shrouded in secrecy, is sinister and undemocratic. The electorate has a right to understand, scrutinize and obstruct laws that threaten to undermine national sovereignty and erode the meagre citizen protection that remain in a world where governments increasingly dance to the omnipotent corporate tune.