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John Hilary: Proposed TTIP Agreement Is Profoundly UndemocraticWednesday, 18 March 2015 00:00 By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | Interview
Michael Nevradakis: Could you share with us a brief introduction as to what the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is all about?
John Hilary: It's a major trade and investment treaty, which is being negotiated between the EU on the one hand, and the US government on the other hand. And so for those of us who live in Europe, the European Commission is representing all of us in the negotiations. Each of the individual countries has no independent trade policies, so everything has gone through Europe. The negotiations began in 2013; they were trying to rush them through to a conclusion by the end of 2015, so they didn't bump into the US presidential election.
This is not the first time that such an agreement has been proposed, and there have been efforts, in fact, to get something like this done since the 1990s.
One of the characteristics of this agreement is the secrecy that is surrounding it. Apparently, members of the European Parliament who have followed the negotiations for TTIP have been essentially forced to sign confidentiality agreements. Is this correct?
One of the main areas of contention surrounding TTIP are the so-called "investor-state dispute settlements," which would allow multinational corporations to sue sovereign governments over policies that they do not agree with, in special courts. Could you share with us some examples of what these settlement courts are like and what this would mean as far as oversight of these corporations?
There are lots of other extraordinary examples. One example is when Slovakia reversed a health privatization, which had been brought in earlier by a previous government and which had been very unpopular. The new government reversed the health privatization, and was immediately sued by a Dutch company [that] was benefiting from the privatization. The corporate court found in favour of the Dutch company and awarded it 22 million euros in damages. Similarly, a French company, Veolia, is suing the government of Egypt for raising the minimum wage. Philip Morris is suing the government of Australia for plain packaging requirements on all cigarettes, and Vattenfall, the Swedish company, is suing the government of Germany for deciding to phase out nuclear power.
The first thing to recognize is that TTIP is not your traditional trade agreement. In the past, trade negotiations were about border tariffs to goods, which are exported from one country and imported to another country. But already, the level of tariff barriers between the EU and the US is very low, so this time, it'll be more about non-tariff barriers, and particularly getting rid of the regulatory barriers, as they call them, to trade. That means any regulations [that] will prevent corporations from being able to maximize their profits when they trade and invest across the Atlantic.
One of the key areas [that] we're very concerned about is the impact of TTIP on health, education and public services. We've seen the leaked offer made by the EU to the US and all of the sectors it's prepared to put on the table in TTIP. That includes health services, education at all levels, water, sewage, rail transport and postal services. If you've already seen these services privatized under your own government regulations, then it will be almost impossible to get them back into public hands. And the other way around, it's important to see this isn't just the US corporations trying to break into European markets.
The first thing to say is that this is a very common result from free trade agreements, that you see the "displacement" of labour. Lots of people end up losing their jobs and being forced out of the markets, which they are already working in. That was exactly the experience under NAFTA, when the US trade unions had been promised hundreds of thousands of new jobs as a result of NAFTA, and instead, the record showed that after 10 years, almost a million US workers had lost their jobs as a direct result of NAFTA.
It's a very similar sort of negotiations. The USA is looking west towards the Pacific countries, and that includes countries of Latin America and also Asia and the Pacific, through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and its looking east towards Europe with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The basic premise behind both of those sets of negotiations is the same. It's about prioritizing the needs of capital over the needs of society, working people and the environment.I think it's worth saying both of these agreements will lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions and in climate change.
Firstly, once the negotiations have come to their end, the final text of TTIP would be presented to the Council of Ministers; that's the 28 member-states of the EU. The heads of all of those member-states would have to vote in favour of TTIP for it to go through, and we've already had a very nice commitment from the new government in Greece, the Syriza government, that they would vote against TTIP. So we are hoping the people of Greece will be our saviours in this respect.
"The basic premise behind both sets of negotiations is the same. It's about prioritizing the needs of capital over the needs of society, working people and the environment."
One of the problems we've had in fighting against the European Commission's trade policy over the past 15 years is that every time we resist and every time we defeat a new proposal, it just comes back again in another guise. So we defeated the MAI in 1998, we defeated the WTO in 2004, and yet still, we're fighting the same battles here in 2015. So we wanted to try to create a new model of how trade could look, how trade and investment policy within the EU could be completely reformed so it wouldn't just lead to interests of transnational capital, but it would meet the interests of society, of working people, and it would end up protecting the environment rather than destroying it.
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