Suppose the fight to win plain-packaged cigarette packets were finally trumped at the last hurdle by British American Tobacco deciding to take the government to court for undermining its tobacco sales, and winning, surely all hell would break loose. But that is exactly what could well happen if the mooted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) goes through. It will allow, if not blocked, Big Business to sue governments before secretive panels made up of corporate lawyers and, believe it or not, bypass the courts and override domestic statute. It would be the biggest victory for unaccountable corporatism over political democracy since neoliberal capitalism became the dominant ideology since the time of Thatcher-Reagan in the 1980s. It would also be a huge triumph for the corporate lobbyists who have been trying for decades, by a mixture of wiliness, bribes and pressure, to get international assent to a Multilateral Investment Agreement, which was finally thrown out by the developing countries 15 years ago as intolerable. But having failed through resistance from Asia, Africa and China, the corporate lobby is now trying to introduce it via a side door on its own domestic territory, as a prelude to then rolling it out worldwide.
At UK, EU & US governmental level the mood has been hush-hush – get it through before the natives find out what has been done in their name ( or rather not in their name, but in secret conclaves with the corporations and their lobbyists whom the EU Commission has met 119 times compared with 8 times with civil society groups). But a recently leaked internal document reveals that the EU has now launched a charm offensive to assure any doubters that it is very much to the advantage of ordinary citizens. Surprise, surprise, it’s going to create a £1 trillion surge in trade, investment and jobs which will benefit everyone. There’s only one problem: they made the figure up. And there’s plenty of precedent for this scam. Obama pledged the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement would increase US jobs by 70,000; in fact they dropped by 40,000. Clinton claimed the North American Free Trade Agreement would create 200,000 new US jobs, but it actually lost 680,000 US jobs. Hyping the jobs is always the last throw of the corporates when all else has failed.
But anyway why go for offshore arbitration? Ken Clarke tries to explain this by saying investor protection was necessary to protect businesses ‘in countries where the rule of law was unpredictable’. So why is it needed in a deal between the US and the EU? No, the real reason of course is that the domestic courts, imperfect as they are, would still not let the big corporates get away with what they certainly would if they only had to appear before a secret and opaque panel of corporate lawyers.
Why is the Labour Party not strongly opposing this, demanding a full-scale investigation by Parliament to ensure the consequences are clarified and well publicised, and making it clear that even if it were passed, a Labour Government would repudiate it?