By Patrick Brogan
TTIP. You’ve seen this? You’ve heard about this? I’m sure you have, but what the hell is it? In short, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an international trade agreement. The agreement is between the EU and the US of A. It is designed to make trading easier between these two jurisdictions by cutting out on the red tape and bureaucracy that slows down and sometimes kills trade. The people promoting TTIP say that it will “boost our economy, create jobs and widen choice and lower prices for consumers.” All good so far.
They are numerous benefits to TTIP and a lot of it is similar to what we have enjoyed since joining the EU. This extends beyond mere trade agreements. It involves the recognition of human rights, the recognition of the danger of nuclear proliferation and the promotion of democracy. New deals and an agreement on trade rules are usually seen as a good thing. The streamlining of business transactions is something that can improve an economy. On paper anyway.
Indeed TTIP is part of a bigger set of international agreements that have been collaborated on since the end of World War II. Bretton Woods looked at international banking and the monetary system. The UN tried to increase international diplomacy, amongst other things and the EU brought in an easier way of trading between European nations. These organisations, especially when they started, had a quaint informality that only required a limited commitment and although this sounds slightly disorganised and vague, which they are compared to today’s standards, this was why they worked by and large. They relied on trust. Trust is the most important aspect when entering an agreement. The new international agreements are more arbitrary in nature and lack this trust.
The Marrakesh Agreement which led to the formation of the World Trade Organisation and various EU treaties, Nice, Lisbon etc, have drawn the world closer. This has meant that national governments have become less meaningful which has led to serious frustration and we are seeing the ramifications of that now which I’ll get onto in more detail later. The founding of the WTO and the EU treaties have given way to an alphabet soup of trade deals, NAFTA- The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the States, TPP- Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement between the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore, CETA- Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU and TTIP. If you notice, all these agreements involve North American nations.
Along with the increased capability of technology, these diplomatic measures have made the world smaller. Globalisation. Although people feel that globalisation has created more choice in their lives it has done the exact opposite. Globalisation is another arm of the Americanisation of the world. It is part of the plan of American hegemony laid out in the Monroe Doctrine. These trade deals are going to promote and put into to practice the ideology and dangerous habits of the neo-liberal megalomaniacs.
Most countries base their law on either one of two systems, common or civil law. We are now moving into the era of corporatism law. While corporations and banks have always had a huge influence over governments, it has never been so blatant that they are calling the shots.
Why is it Bad?
I mentioned earlier that TTIP is designed to abolish the bureaucracy that can hold up trade. The issue here is that a lot of this bureaucracy is designed to protect civil liberties, human rights, environmental protection and many more things besides. TTIP will destroy all these laws. In terms of food, America is way behind Europe on safety. The EU has banned more than a thousand toxins and chemicals in relation to food, the US; less than fifteen. Cosmetics are a similar story.
In the 1950’s, Hermann Abs, the head of Deutsche Bank, wanted a court for investor-state arbitrations. This was to protect German business interests in the newly independent states in the developing world. Colonialism at its finest. He got his wish. Since then, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes was formed. This deals with investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS), or corporations suing sovereign countries for loss of earnings. This is very widespread with most countries having faced this sort of legal action. Germany and Guatemala have both been sued by companies that were unhappy about environmental laws, for example.
These ISDS actions are an important factor of the TTIP agreements, even if France and, ironically the country that fathered them, Germany are opposed. The interesting thing about these cases is that the corporations usually win or get a big settlement out of court with the bill footed by yes, you guessed it, us the taxpayer. Even Human Rights commissions and other NGO groups are powerless to stop it. Just to illustrate how ridiculous these disputes can be, Ford sued the American government because the American military bombed factories owned by Ford that were supplying the Nazi war machine with vehicles. Sued and won. Ford also benefitted from the slave labour of those that would later be murdered in concentration camps.
The negotiation phases of TTIP have been notoriously quiet. The EU Commission says that this is because they “want to reach the best possible final deal for everyone in the EU.” This means that secrecy is the key to confidence in the negotiations. It will affect every citizen of the EU so why not let all the citizens view what is being talked about? It’s not like we’ll get to vote on it when it’s all settled. Even MEPs like Luke Flanagan and Katja Kipping, our elected representatives, were not allowed record what is in TTIP. How very democratic.
I know from my own experience a lot of British people that voted to leave the EU did so over concerns for TTIP. It is unclear given the referendum results whether or not these people will get their wish. These trade deals are set up like an iron grip. They are very difficult to get out of and are set up in a way that makes it very difficult to trade with countries outside of the agreements. For instance, there can be no tax agreement with outside countries, meaning those in the trade deal are tied together in a way that we have never seen before. This also hampers competition, something TTIP is supposed to promote.
The world economy took a nosedive due to the greedy actions of bankers and corporations and the complicit political class and an inept media unable and unwilling to bring those guilty to charge. What ensued, and is still continuing, was austerity while the rich got richer. Under TTIP this is something we will have to get used to. This will be alongside a reduction in workers’ rights, political accountability, the further privatisation of health care and a major crackdown on internet whistleblowers. It begs the question, how are Obama and Merkel benefitting from trying to rush this legislation through?
Increasingly, people have felt frustrated with the political classes. Brexit and the rise of Trump are good examples of this. For too long the power has been taken out of the ordinary citizens’ hands by unelected bureaucrats who look upon the rest of us with disdain. They believe we are too puerile to make our own decisions. For most of my life, I have been optimistic about humanity. I have had this sense that despite some setbacks that the quality of life for most people on this planet has increased dramatically in recent decades and will continue to do so. I am no longer that optimistic.