Nicola Winters highlights the problems with EU-US trade deal, TTIP, and calls for the public to get involved in opposing it.

The EU and the US are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a trade deal set to be the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history – if agreed, and a template for future global trade agreements. The primary focus of TTIP is on curbing regulations and standards, impacting hard-fought social and environmental protection measures.

Truth, Transparency and Red Flags 

“Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption.” (Robert David Steele) The negotiations surrounding TTIP have been conducted at high governmental levels in a non-transparent manner, with access to talks dominated largely by big business and industry lobby groups. It is for this reason that a number of Irish civil society organisations working on behalf of social and environmental justice at local and global levels, have come together to share information and to stimulate greater public awareness regarding these negotiations.

“Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption”

The Investor State Dispute Settlement clause (ISDS) is of particular concern. It would allow foreign investors to sue their host country, if their investment potential and profits are affected due to regulatory decisions taken by governments. There are hundreds of existing cases where countries have been sued for millions, in some cases billions of dollars, for implementing social and environmental protective regulation. Not only does this place huge burdens on states’ public funds, particularly damaging for developing countries, it also directly infringes on a states’ responsibility to implement adequate protection measures for its citizens and the environmental.

Current ISDS Cases

Under the ISDS mechanism in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the US energy company, Lone Pine Resources, is suing the Canadian government over its moratorium on fracking in Quebec. This may set precedents for cases through TTIP. Other cases include the Swedish company, Vattenfall’s, attempts to reverse Germany’s decision to close its nuclear power plants following Fukushima.

“The disputes are held in secret arbitration tribunals, kept completely separate from the national legal systems already in place”

The disputes are held in secret arbitration tribunals, kept completely separate from the national legal systems already in place.  Through this mechanism, the sovereign rights of countries to regulate and legislate are repressed. Multi-national corporations are afforded greater control over natural resources than the countries themselves, placing commercial interests above all other factors.

Profit over precaution

The precautionary principle is another area of concern – this principle is an important safeguard enshrined in EU law. It places responsibility on investors to prove their product or process poses no risk to environmental, social or animal welfare, before it can be approved.

In contrast, the US operates in quite the opposite way. In the US it must be proved that a product or process already on the market is hazardous before it can be removed, meaning responsibility rests on the public.

Through TTIP the US are pushing to remove this precautionary principle, allowing investors greater ease of access to markets, and there are many more regulations and safeguards being targeted by both parties. It appears that profit at all cost trumps people and planet in the TTIP deal.

‘Harmonising regulations’

TTIP represents the lowering of food safety regulations which EU citizens have fought for decades to defend. US Meat lobby organisations are pressurising the EU to accept hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken, pork treated with ractopamine (an animal feed additive banned in over 160 countries but currently being used in the US). Big food and biotech companies seek to eliminate EU restrictions on genetically modified food and food labelling laws which they see as barriers to trade, further undermining the precautionary principle outlined above.

“The most ambitious TTIP scenario would serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 11.8 million tonnes”

Most worryingly however in negotiations surrounding TTIP is the complacency evident in relation to climate justice. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has warned that the majority of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, and that renewable energy must be scaled up to avoid catastrophic climate change. Yet in spite of this call for commitment, TTIP, a trade agreement between two of the largest offenders in carbon emissions, offers no support, and rather snarls in the face of ambitious global commitments. An examination of the European Commission’s official Impact Assessment analysing different scenarios for EU-US trade, predicts that the most ambitious TTIP scenario would serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 11.8 million tonnes.  TTIP also seeks to make it easier to export gas and crude oil from the US which would result in more fracking for fossil fuel.

People and planet first!

As a global interconnected society, it’s no secret that we are collectively facing challenges which threaten the very fabric of our existence. For those of us engaged in environmental and social justice movements, these challenges at times feel insurmountable – from the destruction of forests (the lungs of our planet), the toxic chemicals in our products, to the bloodshed over natural resources.

New models of leadership are called for which demonstrate an in-depth understanding of cause and effect, and consider the economic, social and environmental implications of policy in the long-term, recognising that sustainable development can only be achieved through such a balanced and prospective approach.

With this backdrop in mind it is imperative that any trade deal of such gigantic proportions as TTIP, must be carefully considered in a transparent manner. The perceived economic benefits of such a deal must be weighed against all social and environmental costs, lest we want history, replete with examples of exploitation of people and natural resources, to continue apace.

We can beat TTIP! 

It is possible to beat TTIP! Due to huge public outcry in the 1990s multilateral trade agreements were dropped. Do you want to be part of a movement that will apply the same pressure so that TTIP, and all damaging free trade agreements are dropped? Let’s mobilise together to transition to a sustainable, happy and truly democratic society.

Beginning this road to success here in Ireland, the collective of civil society organisations will address tip of the TTIP ice-berg this weekend. All are welcome to join for our public day of action on TTIP this Saturday July 12th in parallel with the World Development Movement’s day of actions throughout the UK.  A number of experts will present to civil society on key aspects of TTIP. It will be an informative and fun morning calling all those concerned to engage in this debate, and mobilise people power in Ireland to demand a trade deal that places people and the planet at its heart. We hope you can join and be a part of this historic movement!

For more information contact younggoe@foe.ie (one of the civil society groups involved) and check out our event facebook page!

Author: Nicola Winters

Image credit: Hands off our environment, http://www.nottip.org.uk/

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