Tag Archives: trade

NHS must be exempted from TTIP

The only way to stop the US-EU trade deal (euphemistically called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP) from interfering with the freedom of an incoming Labour government to reverse NHS privatisation is by demanding that the UK government vetoes TTIP unless health services are clearly and fully exempted.   At present they are not, and the government minister Lord Livingston has confirmed that the NHS will be covered by TTIP.   As a result a US investor such as Blackrock or Invesco) profiting from NHS privatisation could use TTIP to sue the UK government if it could prove to a panel of 3 trade lawyers sitting in secret, one of which would be chosen by the investor, that its rights under TTIP had been breached.   That could occur if, in the words of the EU’s Chief Negotiator, there was a claim”for example by expropriation without compensation, a denial of justice or manifestly arbitrary treatment”.   In such cases the tribunal would be able to award unlimited compensation and there is no right of appeal.
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The new EU Commission has marked up a TTIP deal with US as a key objective

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.
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How could Cameron have messed it up so comprehensively over Juncker?

It is almost unbelievable that Cameron should have manipulated himself so deftly into a position of total humiliation over the president of the EU Commission appointment.   He made clear from the beginning that his goal was to remain within the EU, but to seek reform of the treaties to which Britain along with all the other 27 countries had consented.   He never wanted an in/out referendum over membership of the EU, but he conceded a referendum in 2017 because of threats from the Tory Right.   He then triangulated these positions by demanding EU reforms that he must have known the other 27 members were certain to reject.   He then implied that if he didn’t get his way, Britain was likely to leave the EU, an ultimatum that lost whatever sympathetic allies he way have had at the outset.   He gave the impression he either had a death wish or else was the most incompetent negotiator in modern times.

Cameron was right that Juncker, the ‘ultimate EU career insider’ as he called him, was a poor choice, a throwback to the kind of fixing behind closed doors that alienated so many EU voters as centralising and remote.   But his handling of the process to displace him was deplorable.   In particular he never proposed a genuine alternative (Lansley was hardly a serious choice), and the 7 demands he made for ‘reform’ were never viable.   They were clearly designed to dismantle any idea of an EU working together, in favour of individual countries able to opt out of anything they didn’t like – even though Britain had had as much opportunity to forge the original legislation as any other State.   Such a view was anathema to a large majority of the EU and would never prevail.

Cameron made 7 demands.   First, he wanted ‘powers flowing away from Brussels, no to it.   Second, he wanted national parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted EU legislation, even though Britain had the same rights as every other EU State to oppose such legislation in its formulation at the outset.   Third, he wanted business liberated from red tape (i.e. more of the de-regulation which caused the crash in the first place) and benefiting from the strength of the EU’s own marketto open up greater free trade with North America and Asia (i.e. signing up to the TTIP with the US which like other international trade treaties has always strengthened capital but led to huge losses of jobs).   Fourth, he wanted UK police forces and justice systems to be able to protect British citizens unencumbered by unnecessary interference from EU institutions (i.e. he wanted Britain to opt out of the ECHR).   Fifth, he wanted free movement to take up work, not free benefits (powers which the UK government is already taking to itself).   Sixth, he wanted new mechanisms to prevent vast migrations across the continent (though Britain already takes far fewer immigrants from the EU than Germany, France or Italy).   And seventh, he objected to the concept of ‘ever closer union’  to which every EU country has to sign up.

His isolation and defeat on every single item was as humiliating as it was predictable.   This is not the behaviour of a prime minister in whose judgement the British people can have confidence.

 

US-EU trade deal stalls over corporations suing governments

Until recently investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) cases were rare.   This is the provision that allows companies to take governments to international arbitration panels to seek compensation if they feel their investment has been harmed by government action.   There has now been a surge in filings by companies taking an ever broader view of what constitutes a legitimate cause for action.   According to the OECD, 57 ISDS cases were filed against government in 2013, almost half of them in developed economies.   What is disturbing is that ISDS has increasingly been stretched to cover regulatory actions rather than simple expropriation.   Several recent cases illustrate this point.

Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, is suing the German government for €3.7bn over the latter’s decision to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.   Canada was forced to revoke its ban on the toxic fuel additive MMT under challenge from the US company Ethyl.   The US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing the Australian government for billions of dollars over its public health policy that all cigarettes must now be sold in plain packaging.   Argentina has been hit hard by several ISDS cases, msny of them related to the country’s decision to unpeg its currency from the US dollar in 2002, and has been forced to pay over $500m  to settle 5 companies’ claims in October 2013.   Ecuador has been ordered to pay Occidental Petroleum $1.77bn in damages for terminating the oil giant’s contract when the company broke Ecuadorian law.   A separate tribunal threw out the claim by Ecuador for $19bn in damages against Chevronfor its contamination of the Amazonian rainforest over a period of two decades.
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Why is Labour not opposing TTIP which gives multinationals power to override democratic laws?

Last week Parliament debated the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated – in secret – between the EU and USA.   It was almost universally approved on both sides of the House, with only one Labour and one Tory MP expressing scepticism or opposition.   It was argued  that it will stimulate trade by removing tariffs and thus promote jobs and economic growth.   That is nonsense since these tariffs are already at minimal levels.   Even US and EU officials admit that the real goal is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations .   Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most valuable social standards and environmental regulations such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crash.   Constant attempts by the big corporates to circumvent these ‘obstacles’ have regularly foundered, but this time the issues are being rushed through as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the US can find out the true scale of the threat.   So why isn’t Labour opposing it?
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Why isn’t much more fuss being made about the US-EU trade deal that allows multi-nationals to override governments?

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.
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US-EU trade deal is next stage of neoliberal corporate supremacy, but not discussed in Parliament

It says a lot about democratic accountability that the most profound and far-reaching issues are not discussed in Parliament.   It was true of the decision in the UK to build the first atomic bomb, it was true of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment in the 2000s which aimed to give the world’s rich countries the right to draft universal investment laws  which would guarantee corporations unconditional rights to conduct financial transactions which could not be challenged by governments or citizens.   And it is true now of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which US and EU trade negotiators are currently trying to bring to fruition.   It too, if carried through, will allow international companies to hold governments to account, rather than the other way round, if they believe that governments are introducing environmental, social or labour standards which unreasonably impinge on their commercial prospects.
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