December 2013        

Transatlantic trade and investment:
Governments to be legally subordinate to corporations

Soon the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill (2013) will go through Dáil Éireann, and hopefully for all of us it will force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in standardised cartons, with graphical health warnings. Or will it?
      Welcome to the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” an international agreement between the United States and the European Union, the negotiations on which were re-started on 13 November. The aim of this massive treaty is to remove any international trade disputes and to bring in totally border-free and free-market economics. And we all know where that will lead us to.
      Speaking last Tuesday [19 November], the minister for health, James Reilly, said he would be “astonished” if the new law would not be challenged, even though he must have known that in Australia there has already been a legal challenge to essentially same law, which the Australian government brought in and which was upheld by the Australian Supreme Court.
      The American corporation Philip Morris International, one of the biggest tobacco companies in the world, has now taken a case against that sovereign state. Using the TTIP, it has asked a secret tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property, i.e. its brand on cigarette packets.
      “Investor-state claims” (actions taken by corporations against governments), or the threat of them, inhibit the capacity of national governments to pass public-health and environmental protection legislation. Arbitrations under the TTIP are carried out in secret by trade lawyers, who earn income from the parties and are not accountable to the public or required to take into account broader constitutional, legal or human rights norms.
      In Canada one government official said recently: “Even if these cases don’t succeed they can exert a powerful effect on legislation . . . I’ve seen letters from New York law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involve dry-cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and patent law. All these new initiatives were targeted, and most of them never saw the light of day.”
      To further conceal the details of the TTIP and the consequences of many of these elements in the proposed agreements, the American negotiators are attempting to obtain “fast-track” authority for the treaties in Washington, meaning that negotiations do not take place in public and that the final agreement will be submitted to the president for signature, with Congress compelled to vote yes or no, without amendment.
      People need to be aware of what is going into this huge agreement and to be vigilant. Going on past agreements, we cannot wait on the EU to stand up for citizens.

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