What is TTIP exactly, and what’s it for? Interview with the World Development Movement

Blog home
5

You may have heard of a proposed trade deal called TTIP (generally pronounced tee-tip). You may also be aware of an awful lot of protest against it. Do you know what it is, and why there is so much opposition to it? We interviewed Guy Taylor of the World Development Movement (WDM) to find out more.

What is it exactly?

It’s the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership – a trade agreement being negotiated now between the US and the EU. It’s not concerned with traditonal facets of trade like tariffs – there’s very little interruption to trade at the moment, and tariffs are at all-time low. TTIP is looking at non-tariff barriers to trade – including laws and rules like safety legislation or environmental legislation around things like fracking, GM, toxic waste disposal etc. It’s a trade agreement that attempts to give corporations the final say in the decision-making process around these issues. For that reason, unlike normal trade treaties, the aim is to keep all discussion papers secret for 30 years. It is intended to be a fait accomplis.

Where has it come from/ who initiated it?

It’s being pushed for by corporations. For example, US food manufacturers are frustrated that they find it difficult to sell their food in the EU, because of different safety standards. In the US for example, chickens are washed in chlorinated water – a practice that’s banned in the EU. The US corporate organisation, the National Chicken Council is trying to overturn this, even though they’re not in the EU.

What are the main aims of the treaty?

There are two main parts of TTIP that a lot of people are worried about. The first is regulatory harmonisation. It’s also called regulatory co-operation or convergence – friendly-sounding terms which are all about the removal of trade barriers (i.e. differences in regulations in different countries). The example they normally use is car safety – it appears to makes sense and is easy to grasp.

The idea is to make safety and other regulations the same on both sides of the Atlantic. In effect, it would mean corporations co-writing new legislation with governments. I’ll let you decide who the dominant partner would be in such collaborations.

But will regulations be standardised to the higher standard or the lower? The EU operates to the precautionary principle – in other words, if something is potentially dangerous, the default position is to err on the side of caution. In the US the attitude is different – more ‘if it’s not proven dangerous, let’s go for it’.

Looking at similar trade agreements in other parts of the world may give a clue as to what might happen. There is already an agreement between Canada and the EU – the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement – that has progressed much further. It has many of the elements of TTIP. Quebec has introduced a one-year moratorium on fracking, and Lone Pine Resources (a fracking company) are suing the Canadian government for $241 million as a result.

Which brings me to the second main point – investor/state dispute settlement, or ISDS. This is a process by which a corporation can sue a government if it has taken a decision that affects their potential profits. For example, in Australia, US cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris are currently suing the Australian government for requiring plain packaging for cigarettes. Uruguay is bringing in larger warnings – and Philip Morris are suing the Uruguayan government as well. Their cases are heard by secret tribunals of corporate lawyers. Yes, you read that correctly. They are able to do this under similar trade agreements to TTIP, which will do the same for the US/EU.

What’s it supposed to be for?

Cameron is saying it will provide a huge boost to economy – lots of jobs – based on projections of computer-based models of the economy. Those models include certain assumptions. However, Tufts university in the US has done a more recent survey predicting job losses, and any new jobs will be lower paid, with less security and longer hours. Cameron is cherry picking to try to persuade us that there’s nothing to worry about. However, this isn’t party-political – don’t expect anything different from Labour or the LibDems.

What will it do instead?

It will hand over decision-making to unelected business instead of elected government – but not all business, just big business. It will cost around 4 million euros to mount a case against a state – only corporations can do that. It’s a full-frontal attack on democracy.

If it’s so problematic, why is it happening?

Unless there is a large public backlash, this deal will go through – the EU is set up to benefit corporate power in the same way that the US government is. This is a case of people resisting corporate interests, and it’s starting to prove effective. The corporate lobby machine has been pushing this very hard. The EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade has had 119 meetings so far with corporate representatives.

What can I do to help prevent it?

The usual stuff – pressurise your representatives / write to your MP to express your disapproval. In fact, express your opposition any way you can – blogs, online debates, conversations with friends and colleagues etc. – so few people really understand it, and many haven’t even heard of it. There are lots of actions against TTIP planned for 2015 – see the WDM website for more information. Oh, and share this article. They’re operating in secret for a reason – let’s expose it.

What’s the alternative?

The status quo, which means no TTIP. A Europe constructed in the interests of its people and its environment, rather than of corporate interests.

Where can I find out more?

On the WDM website, or on the website of No TTIP – a coalition of groups across the UK. If you put TTIP into Google or YouTube, you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy. You’ll come across lots of corporate-friendly sites/videos/blogs too. You have to decide for yourself whether the point of TTIP is to promote the greater good, or to divert more wealth and therefore power to the corporate sector.