Protesters at Saturday's anti-TTIP demonstration in central London
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade agreement being negotiated between America and Europe. Described as “a game changer” by the European Commissioner for Trade, it’s been sold on the familiar premise of economic growth and job creation, promising an extra $167 billion a year to the EU and $134 billion a year to the US.
But amid the assurances of all that lovely extra cash, the agreement presents a number of issues that, weirdly, the business lobbyists and multinational corporations behind the deal aren’t so excited to promote. For one, the TTIP will produce “prolonged and substantial” disruption to European workers, as corporations will be free to exploit the labor market in America, where unions are communist terror cells and labor standards are an attack on freedom.
The TTIP’s real aim is to reduce “non-tariff” barriers to trade, otherwise known as European laws. In order to boost trade, markets will be further deregulated and standards will be “harmonized.” This could result in GMOs appearing in European supermarkets, the eradication of data privacy laws, and the lowering of environmental standards, as well as whatever’s contained in the secret parts of the deal, which won’t be brought to light until they’re agreed upon by the European Commission and US officials.
The most worrying element of the TTIP, however, is the concept of investor state dispute settlements. This will allow corporations to sue countries for creating laws that aren’t beneficial to businesses—and not only for loss of profits, but for loss of future profits. That might sound like the kind of hypothetical horror story you’d see posted on the Infowars forum, but this kind of thing is already happening the world over thanks to older free trade agreements, such as the much criticized North American Free Trade Agreement.
A company called Lone Pine Resources, for example, is suing the Canadian government for $250 million after fracking was temporarily prohibited in Quebec; tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Australia for making plain packaging mandatory on cigarettes; and when Ecuador tried to re-nationalized their oil industry, Occidental Petroleum Corporation sued them and won $1.7 billion, more than the company’s net income for any of the three previous quarters.
And these aren’t cherry-picked cases; corporations are becoming increasingly willing to seek investor-state dispute settlements. In 2012—the last year with available data—514 cases were filed, the highest number on record. Not only do these settlements cost governments huge amounts of money, they also have a detrimental effect on legislation, as countries are forced to consider how new laws will impact corporations rather than their own citizens.
All of these causes for concern are compounded by the secretive nature of the discussions. So far most of the significant information about the negotiations has come from leaks, and the EU’s chief negotiator has confirmed that all documents pertaining to the discussions will be out of the public’s reach for 30 years.
On Saturday thousands took to the streets across the UK in protest against the TTIP. During the march speakers described the TTIP as “the fourth wave of attacks on post-war benefits”, which would affect “every aspect of our lives”. Reflecting the far-reaching implications of the TTIP, the assembled crowd was a mix of campaign groups, unions, and activists. Here’s a taste of what they had to say.
Melinda St. Louis is an American activist and member of the consumer-rights group Public Citizen
How are people reacting to TTIP in America?
Melinda St. Louis: TTIP is a bigger issue in America because the NAFTA agreement devastated the middle class of the United States, and people recognize that TTIP is a very similar thing. There’s a large coalition of people going under the banner of the Citizen’s Trade Campaign, which includes family farmers, trade unions, faith groups, etc., who have been mobilizing to educate people on the dangers of this failed neoliberal trade model.
What brought you over to the UK?
I came over to England to give a speaking tour in order to stress that this issue isn’t America vs. the EU; this is people around the globe standing up against the largest companies in the world.
Nick Dearden is the press coordinator for the World Development Movement, the global justice campaign group that organized the protest.
VICE: How would you describe TTIP?
Nick Dearden: TTIP is part of a massive trade offensive that's going to hand over massive amounts of power to corporations to rule over our society. It's the worst corporate offensive we’ve seen for 20 years. Four months ago nobody had heard of the agreement; now, we’ve reached the stage where people from across the political spectrum are getting involved. It chimes with a feeling people have that our democracy is being taken away from us.
Do you think those involved are starting to notice the resistance?
Pro-TTIP groups are definitely feeling the heat. I think that’s partly why they came out yesterday and said the National Health Service would be exempted—not that we believe them. They're starting to feel that they need to justify themselves now.
Where do you go from here?
I really see this as the beginning of the next big push against corporate power, and I hope by beating TTIP we can give back activists the idea that they can win. However, there’s still so much work to be done because there are agreements lined up behind TTIP called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade In Services Agreement.
Paul Murphy is a council worker and a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party
What brought you out here today?
This agreement should be a huge deal for everyone. It would make re-nationalizing industries like the railways impossible and decimate our NHS. Can you imagine having our country sued for loss of profits? The thought of it makes me sick.
What more needs to be done?
We only have a very short space of time to raise awareness—in six months it will be too late. We need to force politicians to take notice. It’s shocking that Labor are still keeping quiet about TTIP, it should be the perfect issue for them.
What do you make of today’s protests?
It’s encouraging to see so many people out here today, but even if we beat TTIP you know the fat cats are going to keep coming back for more, especially when we’re in such a protracted recession. I think our side needs to do a lot more to stop them in the long run.
Saoirse Fitzpatrick is the coordinator of the Students Stop AIDS Campaign.
Why is your group involved in the protest today?
TTIP will give big pharmaceutical companies more power to charge us more money for drugs. At the moment the NHS survives off generic drugs, which saves us around $34 billion a year. But TTIP will give companies the ability to extend patents, meaning generic forms of drugs can’t be produced.
Not being able to afford health care in America is the number-one cause of bankruptcy, and we don’t want that to be the case here. Our main concern, though, is that TTIP will set the global standard for all future free trade agreements. This means countries in the global south, which already have limited health budgets, will have to abide by these strict patenting rules if they want to trade. For most people living in developing countries the price of healthcare won’t be an issue of bankruptcy, it will be an issue of life and death.
Mark Thomas is a comedian, journalist and activist.
What do you make of the media coverage of this trade agreement?
What media coverage? That’s the whole problem. There's been no media coverage worth anything on TTIP. Most major newspapers are offshore in some form or another, and so they are the corporations who seek to benefit. They clearly have no interest in promoting democracy.
Do you think the complexity of the issues might also be a factor?
If Nigel Farage can go around talking about sovereignty and win over masses of voters, we can get the message out. This isn’t complicated; it’s simple—democracy is the most important thing, and TTIP puts it in danger.
Jean Lambert is a member of the Green Party and has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999.
How do attitudes towards TTIP differ across political groups in Europe?
The four main political groups in the European Parliament aren’t willing to establish their positions at the start of the new parliament, and I think that’s because there are one or two parties that might be wobbling. They are really concerned about the way public opinion is moving in certain countries, in particular more socialist countries. A lot of countries are also concerned about transparency and what this deal is really going to mean for their public services. I think there’s going to be a lot more internal discussion going on because of the movements all over the world.