Tiptoe Through the TTIP

Hands up all those who know what TTIP stands for? You don’t? Well it was the topic of a major debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday. However it received scant coverage. The only news about the SP seemed to be that we should expect a rammy there today because it’s the last FMQ before next week’s General Election.

It’s the same with most obscure acronyms referring to organisations not instantly recognisable as sports (FIFA), political hot potato (NATO), celebrity (BAFTA) or telly (BBC) oriented. Business—especially international business—is a wilderness of ignorance. ITU-T(CCITT)? CFCA? ERDF/ESF? The first regulates telecomms worldwide—the basis for both internet and mobile phones, the second runs EU fishing (in which Scotland gets no say) and the third distributes more EU sunsidies across Scotland (£600m) than CAP (£580m).

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—along with the TPP sister operation for Asia—is Uncle Sam waking up and trying to smell the coffee after five decades of protectionism during which they missed several rounds of trade agreements with their best customers. While Europe was post-war devastated and fragmented and the Chinese dragon had not yet grown up to be capable of global flame-throwing, US firms from Ford to Boeing to Intel to McDonalds to Microsoft could rule the roost.

The global reach of Google, Starbucks et al shows they are still very much a player. But the way Japan challenged and won electronics and small car skirmishes, the way Airbus stole much of Boeing’s market, the way Union Carbide’s Bhopal disaster put a stop to most shoddy industrial practice exploitation of the Third World all knocked the US off its once-dominant perch.

The struggle to mitigate the impact of recession post-2007 has been hampered by the habitual civil war that goes on between President and Congress but minds have slowly turned from their usual autocratic Deus-ex-Mackinaw position to a genuine attempt to go out into the world and negotiate treaties different from one-sided United Fruit deals with small banana republics—largely responsible for the US being tarred with a colonial brush throughout Latin America.

And so to TTIP. TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. The good news is that the Americans are genuinely after a deal with Europe.

The bad news is that (as usual) they want the rules written their way AND the whole thing has been going on behind the closed doors of commercial confidentiality since February of last year. As a result, few people are informed about the likely consequences of this being approved. John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, calls it “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”

Is that not hyperbole or, at least, anti-American overstatement? Well consider some of the probable impacts:

  1. Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS. The European Commission has claimed that public services will be kept out of TTIP. However, Lord Livingston (Tory Trade Minister) has admitted that talks about the NHS were still on the table.
  2. On the touchy subject of Food Safety, TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ tries to move EU standards on food safety towards the US. But US regulations are not as strict: 70% of US supermarket processed food has genetically modified ingredients while the EU allows none; US restrictions on the use of pesticides are more lax and growth hormones in its beef are banned by EU due to links to cancer.
  3. Similarly in environmental issues, the EU’s REACH regulations on potentially toxic substances are strict—a company has to prove a substance safe before use is permitted; in the US any substance can be used until it is proved to be unsafe.
  4. The all-powerful City of London wants America’s financial rules (much tougher than the UK’s). They were put into place post-2007 to curb the powers of bankers and avoid a repetition of that fiscal crisis. TTIP could remove those restrictions, effectively handing the City’s powers back to bankers on both sides of the pond.
  5. On privacy, an easing of data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials are both being discussed. There is also a concern that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (thrown out by the EU parliament) is being reintroduced undemocratically as part of TTIP discussions.
  6. Jobs are also at stake: The EU has aldready admitted TTIP will switch jobs to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. The 30-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico actually cost 1m US jobs over 12 years, instead of hundreds of thousands promised.
  7. There is no evidence to support TTIP’s claim that it will benefit small businesses. Large corporations will benefit from opening up of local procurement but small businesses will be disadvantaged in competition with transnationals.”
  8. But TTIP’s biggest threat is its inherent assault on democracy. One of TTIP main aims is Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) These allow companies to sue governments if their policies cause a loss of profits. This means unelected global corporations could dictate policy to democratically elected governments.

Many of these points came out in Wednesday’s Holyrood debate S4M-13007—Implications of the TTIP for Scotland. While Jamie McGrigor  (Tory Spokesperson on the Environment, Fishing and External Affairs) was pretty gung-ho about the whole thing, a great deal of sense was spoken by the two Independent Highland MSPs, Jean Urquhart and John Finney who touched on most of the points listed above and made a strong case that, although Scotland was (again) not at the top table negotiating this, that we would be best to sup wi’ a lang spoon from this particular brew.

On a February visit to London to ‘promote’ TTIP, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom got several fleas in her ear: MPs said more transparency was needed to address public concern; Business Secretary Vince Cable accepted there were benefits, but only if MPs were given access to the treaty to ask searching questions; StopTTIP UK claimed it could jeopardize governments’ legal freedom and lower trade standards. “What part of ‘NO’ does she not understand?” is how they put it.

International trade agreements are necessary for world economies to flourish. But a good start to defusing a raft of valid concerns about TTIP would be to drag its negotiations out of the closet and into democratic view.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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