The latest of a series of events in Tayside to demonstrate opposition to TTIP is being held on Saturday 22 August 2015. So what are we protesting about?
TTIP is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a proposed deal between the United States and the European Union. If it was just about promoting trade, then it would be hard to oppose, although even trade can have negative consequences as it increases the environmental impact of transporting goods around the world, and can destroy local trade networks and distinctive products. (Continued below picture)
Mayday 2015 demo against TTIP in Dundee
However, TTIP goes much further. It aims to reduce “non-tariff barriers”, which mainly consist of regulations and protections which have been agreed by democratic governments to protect citizens, their environment, animal welfare, etc. Europe has high levels of environmental safeguards introduced over many years, and adheres to the precautionary principle whereby products have to be shown to be safe to people and the environment before they can be sold. Animal welfare is relatively high (even though it could be improved further). The US has lower standards in many respects, for example in meat production. Animals are fed growth hormones and antibiotics which are not permitted in the EU, and chicken is doused with disinfectant before it is sold because infections are widespread in intensive poultry production. If the EU market is opened up to US products, EU producers will have to lower their standards to compete.
This is just one example. Health and safety standards and working conditions could be reduced through the same competitive pressures. And if EU member state governments try to introduce new regulations, multinational corporations would be able to sue them for loss of potential earnings through a parallel legal system called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process. Corporations would raise a case which would be heard in secret, by lawyers who have a vested interest in encouraging such cases.
Already there are many examples of this in other countries where corporations have raised multi-million dollar claims against governments:
- Egypt has been sued for raising the minimum wage
- Slovenia was successfully sued for renationalising part of its health service
- Argentina is being sued for $405m for renationalising its water supply after the private company raised prices dramatically and failed to meet its agreed targets
- Australia is being sued by Philip Morris for introducing plain cigarette packets
- Germany is facing massive claims for compensation from Swedish company Vattenfall for closing down its nuclear power stations following the Fukushima disaster in Japan
- El Salvador is trying to stop a new gold mine polluting its remaining fresh water, and being sued for $301m by Canadian/Australian company Oceana Gold.
These cases tend to be heard in secret in an office block in Washington.
As a result, governments are much more likely to exercise caution when they are considering introducing new legislation to protect the public or the environment, in case they end up having to settle a big claim from a company. Why has the EU been so cautious about banning pesticides which are killing bees, despite the enormous consequences this is having for agriculture and wildlife? And why has the UK government recently back-tracked on this?
Such a commercial claims mechanism would act as a powerful deterrent for governments wishing to take action to reduce oil and gas production to reduce carbon emissions, given the impact on the profits of fossil fuel companies. It recalls the enormous compensation paid out to British slave owners after legislation was introduced banning slavery in 1833.
In addition to all these issues, politicians and trades unions are voicing their concerns that public services such as the NHS would be opened up to even greater pressure from private companies.
It’s not surprising that there has been a groundswell of opposition to TTIP across Europe, and in the US as well. But corporations have called in favours from politicians and are pushing ahead with this and other deals. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is proceeding towards agreement after President Obama secured approval from Congress by siding with the Republicans against strong opposition in his own party, and from the environmental movement and trades unions. The CETA (Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement) between Canada and the EU is closes to final approval, and there are many other bilateral deals being agreed. All this activity is the result of the failure of the Doha world trade talks, which stalled in 2008. So the corporations just found another way to get what they want.
In June 2015, the European Parliament voted in favour of TTIP proceeding, despite the millions of citizens who have signed petitions and mounted protests across the EU. Politicians at Westminster and Holyrood have also been under pressure to oppose TTIP, even though they have no say in the negotiations. It is likely that the UK Government will have to secure the support of MPs to ratify the deal if agreement is finally reached, possibly in 2016 or later.
Campaigners in Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Now, War on Want, 38 Degrees, the Green Party, and other organisations are committed to continuing the struggle. There is a Stop TTIP Dundee group, and another very active group in St Andrews, as well as groups in other towns and cities around Scotland. Valuable support and co-ordination is being provided by Global Justice Now and 38 Degrees. To get involved in the campaign in Tayside, contact us or visit the Stop TTIP Dundee Facebook page to find out more.
Sources for more info:
Excellent explanatory booklet on TTIP from John Hilary of War on Want
Global Justice Now website coverage of TTIP
St Andrews TTIP Action group Facebook page
UN lawyer calls for suspension of negotiations of TTIP over fears of human rights abuses
Example of El Salvador’s fight against a gold mine development
Argentina sued for renationalising the water industry
Early Day Motion 146 in the House of Commons, opposing TTIP
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s warning about ISDS in the TPP