The fight over the euphemistically named Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the US Congress successfully blocked over the last year, is about to be pushed forward in a higher gear now that the new EU Commission has made clear their eagerness to drive a deal through with the US over this next year. The previous Commission had already met with corporations and their lobbyists 119 times, according to FOI requests, compared with just 8 times with civil society groups. The argument is that TTIP will promote jobs and growth – the same argument that the US used to promote NAFTA, when it actually led to an export of jobs from the US and is only now supported by 15% of Americans. The other main argument is that it will remove regulation and red tape that gets in the way of trade. The talk is of ‘regulatory convergence’ which is likely to mean chasing the lowest common denominator in terms of labour, social and environmental standards.
One example of this is that the EU currently, and rightly, refuses to import beef from cows fed a diet that includes the hormone Ractopamine where there are widely documented health concerns. The US does not however have such scruples, and will almost certainly be demanding the lifting of this restriction. The same applies to chickens treated with chlorine after slaughter. An even more disturbing example is the strong opposition by US agribusiness to the EU clampdown on endocrine disrupters. The links between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and precocious puberty is not disputed, and US studies before 1997 found 1% of 8-year old girls showed signs of entering puberty. After 1997, after the largest study ever undertaken into this phenomenon, this figure was revised to 1% of 3-year old girls. Does anybody in Europe want their ban on endocrine-disrupting chemicals to be lifted at the behest of US agriculture to promote their business profits under the pretext of improving trade?
Most disturbing of all is the pressure from the big US corporations, probably supported by big EU corporations, to introduce the proposed investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS). This would allow companies wishing to challenge a national regulation to bypass the usual process and go straight to investment tribunals. Here hugely important outcomes are passed to just 3 arbitrators – one chosen by the company, one by the State, and a third agreed by both. In effect this leaves the decision with just one person. It has been claimed that this is needed to protect businesses against failed States, but it looks much more like a measure to protect big business against democracy.
An actual example of where it was applied relates to Canada which was sued by Ethyl Corporation via a dispute mechanism for banning MMT, an Ethyl product, which Canada considers (correctly) to be a highly dangerous toxin. So even does the US which banned it on public health grounds. Yet Canada was forced to settle and had to pay millions in compensation and to reverse the ban. Who wants ISDS enforced in the EU or the UK?