By Ross Mackay
Last week I set off from Aberdeen for Brussels with my Kilted Comrades Alistair and Martin to protest against TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) – two mega trade deals between the EU, US and Canada. This was to be the 8th round of negotiations on TTIP – the first with the new Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström – focusing on regulations and standards. I was one of a dozen or so Scots amongst a UK contingent of over 140; a really diverse group of activists, young and old, male and female, representing amongst others 38 Degrees, Global Justice Now, War On Want, and Friends Of The Earth.
The train journey from London to Brussels itself was a great networking opportunity. I spoke at length with James, an activist and filmmaker from Manchester, and it was great to hear about how he’d been campaigning where he lived. Conversations like this were taking place the length and breadth of the Eurostar; engaged people sharing ideas.
We arrived in Brussels around lunchtime and kicked off with a walking tour of corporate lobbying criminals by Corporate European Observatory (CEO), an organisation campaigning against corporate lobbying in Brussels. Know your enemy as it were. The crux here was the sheer volume of corporate lobbying in Europe; tens of thousands employed, roughly 80% of lobbyists are employed by corporations, and less than 20% by national governments or NGOs. Telling.
Our second stop was an open discussion forum with civil society activists and organisations from around Europe. This included Green MEP Molly Scott Cato; Cornelia Reetz from the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) against TTIP; Polly Jones from Global Justice Now; and Pia Eberhardt from CEO. Amongst other things that we’d go into in more detail later in the trip, we heard that some local authorities were penning local anti-TTIP declarations; there are strong correlations between rising cross-border trade and rising carbon emissions; recently elected Syriza in Greece will unanimously oppose TTIP; and currently only the Green and Left blocs in the European Parliament oppose the Treaty – far from a majority.
We also talked at length about the potential impact on employment in the EU. Proponents of TTIP cite job gains as a key advantage of TTIP, but even the EU’s own research Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), and Tufts University indicates this wouldn’t be the case. It’s more likely TTIP causes job losses, as in the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) or WTO (World Trade Organisation)/GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) examples. Any figures on job creation are modelled on a treaty that isn’t finished and which no-one is allowed to see.
The secrecy around the treaties should be alarming on its own: Molly told us how MEPs have only recently been allowed to look at the text, and this is only after protests from MEPs in the Left and Green blocs. Indeed, they still have to view the pages in a secure room, sign an Espionage Disclaimer, and they’re not allowed to take any notes or talk about what they’ve read.
Day two started early as we’d heard that TTIP negotiations would be taking place at a nearby hotel. We took part in a good-natured, peaceful demonstration outside the venue, then we were on our way to the main protest in Schuman Square, outside the European Commission building. We were joined by Friends Of the Earth’s Europe’s inflatable Trojan Horse. This was a larger, but again peaceful protest – vibrant, noisy and passionate, well attended by activists from across Europe and lots of media interest.
Our final stop was the European Parliament, to lobby some of our Green and Labour MEPs. First up was German Green Martin Köhler, adviser on International Trade, then UK Green MEPs Keith Taylor, Molly Scott Cato, and Jean Lambert, and Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans. This was another really informative forum. We discussed at length the ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provision of TTIP and CETA; probably the most controversial part of the deal. ISDS could allow corporations like British American Tobacco to sue governments, in secret, supra-national courts, for raising the age of smoking for instance; for pursuing (re)nationalisation of industry or institutions; or for rejecting fossil fuel extraction in favour of greener technologies. Anything that could slow the development of renewables in Scotland in favour of more fossil fuels should be a red flag. The treaty could open up the NHS to further, locked-in, privatisation, and allow big businesses to sue the government if Scottish or British laws dent their profits. Why should unelected, unrepresentative bodies, hold such power?
Similar mechanisms in other countries have seen Philip Morris Asia challenging Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation; Swedish utility company Vattenfall is suing Germany over its nuclear power phase-out; Argentina was sued for billions of dollars by utility companies for freezing energy and water bills; El Salvador is being sued for over £300 million by a Canadian mining company for rejecting a gold mine because of concerns about water pollution; and Canada’s patent laws are being challenged by an American drugs firm.
‘Regulatory Cooperation and Harmonisation’, the theme of the eighth round of talks, was also a key talking point. At present EU standards and regulations are typically higher and tighter than those in the US, with the notable exception of finance. It seems very unlikely that the US and its corporations would agree to meet EU levels; rather the EU is likely to have to weaken its own legislation. Even if there’s not explicit watering down of EU rules, the framework could be such that corporations must comply with either regulation; of course they’ll choose the lower standard. We’ve seen a recent example with the quiet removal of the ban against GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the EU; an early concession to US agri-business. Accordingly, the US are also challenging the ‘Precautionary Principle’ which governs much of EU law; that is where the burden of proof is on proponents (in this example, corporations) to demonstrate a product is not damaging. US Corporations would prefer their home model, ‘Sound Science’, where opponents must prove that a product is detrimental; ideology, not science.
We were running out of time on this trip, but squeezed in a little less than an hour with our Labour MEPs. After a brief presentation from Jude Kirton-Darling and David Martin, we broke out into smaller regional groups. Us Scots got fifteen minutes or so to quiz Catherine Stihler and David Martin. Martin could be a key player on TTIP; he sits on the International Trade Committee, and he’s a spokesperson for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. It’s really important people in Scotland inundate him with their concerns. Right now Labour seem broadly supportive of ‘a good TTIP’. I don’t believe there is such a thing.
There’s actually plenty happening in the Scottish context of TTIP right now. The European and External Relations Committee at the Scottish Parliament are holding an ongoing inquiry into TTIP. They’ve just taken evidence from Lord Livingston, UK trade minister. Curiously business leaders admitted during previous evidence gathering that Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have done no economic analysis on how TTIP might impact the Scottish business community, but like CBI, they’re fully supporting TTIP anyway. Hopefully once the inquiry is complete, we’ll have a full debate in the Scottish Parliament. We need to pursue this. We also have Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, the Shadow Minister for Trade to engage with. We should press him to lay out the Labour party’s official position on TTIP with a General Election looming in May.
These Treaties have yet to really pervade the mainstream consciousness, but they should concern everyone. TTIP and CETA represent seismic shifts in power away from people, and the governments they elect, towards corporations. If TTIP proceeds as it is we’ll cede power over not just trade and tariffs but over global economic policy. That’s what CETA, and to a greater extent TTIP are really all about: ‘cuts, job losses, money for the bosses’. TTIP threatens workers’ rights, jobs, the environment, public health, public institutions, privacy, openness, accountability, transparency and democracy itself. TTIP is not really about opening up trade and harmonising tariffs; it’s about a race to the bottom in standards and regulations, and locked-in privatisation; profit before people. TTIP only offers prosperity for the 1%, the wealthy elites. We need to show our opposition now before it’s too late and the deal goes through. We want the negotiations on TTIP to stop. Any treaty should only be binding with the support of individual parliaments in the countries affected, and the European Parliament. There’s a growing network across Scotland and the UK against TTIP. Find your local group and get involved.