Who gains from TTIP trade deal?


Joe O’Connor takes a tour around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

What is TTIP?

ttip1TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This proposed trade deal between the US and the EU has been under negotiation since 2013, and is arguably the most significant trade deal in modern history.

Until recently, it has pretty much escaped public discussion, despite its potentially far reaching consequences for people throughout Europe. Details about trade agreements are not particularly easily to get the media or the public excited or exercised about.

There’s also been a deliberate strategy to curtail debate on TTIP. There’s not a single reference to it in the new 155-page Programme for Government, and the negotiations have been conducted under a cloud of secrecy – as we reported in IMPACT’s Work & Life magazine in 2014.

So who benefits?

The primary purpose of TTIP is to extend corporate investor rights. The deal would give special legal rights to corporations through access to a new investment court system, which would allow to sue nations for financial compensation if they thought their government’s actions or policies interfered with their ability to make a profit. This is the most controversial provision being proposed in TTIP.

Meanwhile, trade unions, who have largely been bypassed in the negotiation process, would merely be able to seek a ‘letter of criticism’ from a group of eminent experts if objections are raised.

Regulation and public policy

Another worrying element of the proposed agreement is that it would establish an unelected regulatory cooperation board, which would seek to curtail regulatory standards deemed as barriers to trade. This would likely include policies like plain packaging for tobacco, minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and a sugar tax. Whether or not you agree with them, such public health should surely be available to sovereign Governments.

The governments of Canada, Australia, Germany and others have already experienced corporate lawsuits on foot of robust laws and regulations aimed at tackling climate change or the harmful effects of cigarettes. TTIP would grant corporations wider powers to prevent these kind of public policy actions.

Canadian activist Naomi Klein argues that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement has been the single biggest roadblock to effective action on global warming over the last two decades.

So the fear is that TTIP will further hamstring government that try to tackle big challenges like underinvestment in public services, economic inequality and climate change.

As a small open economy, heavily reliant on foreign direct investment, Ireland would be particularly exposed.

Public services

TTIP would threaten public services too. Previous major trade agreements have protected public services from privatisation, except where specific provisions were agreed. TTIP takes the opposite approach, making all services vulnerable to privatisation unless they are explicitly exempted.

Labour standards

Rights at work would be under threat too as the goal of TTIP is to align regulations and standards between the EU and US to remove barriers to trade. Yet the United States refuses to ratify core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions including those covering collective bargaining and freedom of association.

EU negotiators have given assurances that there will be no watering down of standards in this area. But recent leaks of secret TTIP papers suggest the ‘red lines’ our negotiators are highlighting in public are not being protected in the negotiations.

What now?

The recent IMPACT Biennial Delegate Conference passed a motion from the Louth Branch, which calls for a sustained and public campaign against the implementation of TTIP and its sister agreement the Canada Europe Trade Agreement.

We’re going to ensure that our members and the wider public are fully aware of the many dangers posed by these proposed deals, and I look forward to working with IMPACT members and other unions to make this happen over the coming months.

Joe O’Connor is the IMPACT organiser with responsibility for national projects.