The following appeared in the Irish Independent on Saturday, July 16th
Unite believes that the implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) are so far-reaching that it must be put to a referendum. Here are some reasons.
Traditional trade issues are only incidental to this so-called ‘trade deal’. TTIP’s main thrust is to debase democracy by awarding global corporations legal privilege over citizens and elected Governments. As a result, the ability of democratically elected governments to safeguard labour, consumer, environmental and health standards will be severely, if not fatally, undermined.
Our main concern is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS, now repackaged as the Investment Court System) which enables corporations to sue governments for compensation if they believe public policies interfere with profit maximisation. They can bypass our legal system and take their case to secret, private courts from which there is no appeal. This has been done under the umbrella of other agreements with similar ISDS provisions:
- Philip Morris Company sued Australia over its planned introduction of plain-packaging for cigarettes
- Veolia is suing Egypt for its decision to raise the minimum wage
- Canada has been sued by corporations over such decisions as subsidising renewable energy, placing a moratorium on fracking, banning toxic petrol additives and temporarily banning the export of toxic waste.
This is not about ‘trade’. It is about global corporations coercing governments into subordinating public welfare to shareholder interests. No wonder the negotiations have been conducted in secret and there is reportedly an agreement with the US that negotiation documents won’t be made public for 30 years.
Instead of addressing this substantial democratic deficit, the Government has focused on TTIP’s alleged economic benefits. However, the Government’s own report shows little economic gain but potentially significant losses. For example, although TTIP will boost pharmaceutical exports this will have little impact on employment. Pharmaceutical exports have nearly doubled since 2000 but sectoral employment has actually fallen. Many of TTIP’s purported benefits, like the recent GDP figures, will be only marginally attached to the domestic economy.
But the losses will be felt in the domestic economy. Even the Government admits the beef sector will be badly affected. The Irish Farmers Association has raised additional concerns about the pigmeat and poultry sectors, citing threats to standards governing genetic modified organisms, hormones, pesticides, animal health and product labelling, Thanks to TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’, these standards are likely to be driven down to US levels of low regulation. Given the importance of the food sector, the Irish economy could be badly hit.
But that’s not all.
Leaked TTIP negotiating documents indicate that a range of consumer protections are also in the firing line. The EU’s precautionary principle was dropped (whereby products must be proven safe before they can be sold) in favour of the US ‘risk-based’ approach which puts the burden of proof on states and consumers to show products are unsafe. Everything from US-sanctioned lead in lipstick to chlorinated chickens could hit our shelves after TTIP.
European public service unions have warned that health, education and other public services could be exposed to privatisation, race-to-the-bottom competition and secret-court action. The ‘negative list’ approach means that all public services can be permanently opened up to TTIP unless the current government specifically excludes them. This is a real threat in Ireland where global companies already have a foothold in our hospital and higher education sectors.
Business groups are waking up to these threats. In Germany, 'KMU gegen TTIP’ (SMEs against TTIP) is supported by thousands of small companies and entrepreneurs – including many exporters. They point to TTIP’s hidden additional costs and the disadvantage they would be placed at vis-à-vis global corporations.
Throughout Europe there is a rising sentiment against TTIP. Over 3 million signed a petition – a European Citizens’ Initiative – opposing the deal. Over 1,800 cities and regions have declared themselves ‘TTIP free-zones’ including Barcelona, Cologne, Milan, Vienna, Amsterdam, Birmingham and County Clare. Every month the list grows.
In Ireland there is an emerging, broad-based coalition opposed to TTIP – from farming, consumer and environmental activists to ICTU and the trade union movement.
TTIP poses such a fundamental threat to democracy, public welfare and our economy that Unite believes people should have the final say in a referendum.