December 2015        

TTIP—a cloak for imperialist expansion

Eoghan O’Neill

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now being secretly negotiated between the European Union and the United States, is an agreement designed to attack the gains of workers, to open up public utilities and services to private competition, to reduce environmental and safety standards, and to do away with banking regulations, and it will result in massive levels of unemployment and reductions in wages.
     Furthermore, TTIP would give transnational corporations a veto over any government regulations that stood in the way of greater profit. And—according to the US “ambassador” to the EU, Anthony Gardner—TTIP is an imperial geopolitical strategy, aimed at isolating Russia and creating an economic version of NATO.
     The origin of TTIP goes back to 1995, when it was floated by the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, an invitation-only group of chief executives of the most powerful American and European companies. Unlike other trade agreements, TTIP has little to do with the lowering of tariffs and everything to do with removing or degrading regulations that they see as a barrier to profits. The banking regulations that were intended to prevent another 2008-style capitalist crash are to go; environmental regulations that are superior to those in the United States are to be degraded, giving American transnationals a decided advantage over European businesses; and hard-won social standards and labour rights are to go, along with health and safety regulations, food standards, and regulations on toxic chemicals and on data protection.
     Furthermore, the proposed establishment of a “Regulatory Co-operation Council” would police the implementation of agreed deregulation commitments, and would give corporations the power to amend, or even veto, the planned regulations of a sovereign state, even after TTIP has been ratified. This would give the corporations power over national governments, diminishing their right to regulate in the interests of their own people. Any proposed regulations that corporations felt would get in the way of profit could be amended by the corporations in their interests, or removed altogether.
     With regard to employment, exaggerated claims have been made by EU officials and local politicians about the positive effect TTIP would have on the creation of jobs. Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment: An Economic Assessment, commissioned by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, claims that the EU’s economic output would rise by 0.5 per cent by 2027, and this has become the most commonly quoted figure. However, this claim is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and is only the most optimistic scenario from that report. More realistic scenarios from the same report estimate an increase in GDP of little more than 0.1 per cent—i.e. an annual increase in the growth of GDP of 0.01 per cent for the ten-year period.
     The reality is very different from the optimistic claims of the pro-TTIP officials and politicians. The degrading and reversal of regulations, and the fact that employment standards are lower in the United States and that trade union rights are practicality non-existent, would result in European companies purchasing goods and services from the United States, causing a huge negative effect on jobs in Europe.
     A recent report by Jeronim Capaldo, The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability, predicts that European countries would lose 600,000 jobs. Furthermore, there would be a significant reduction in wages as a result of TTIP.
     The EU has in fact recognised the reality of such job losses, and that those who lost their jobs would be unlikely to find alternative employment. In response to this probable loss the EU Commission has advised member-states to draw on structural support funds, such as the European Globalisation Fund and the European Social Fund, which has been assigned €70 billion to distribute over the seven years 2014–2020.
     The hard-won working conditions of Irish and other European workers will be under threat as TTIP seeks to harmonise the working conditions of European workers with those in the United States. This puts in context the Croke Park and Haddington Road Agreements, which are preparing the way for a wholesale onslaught on the wages and working conditions of Irish workers.
     For further evidence of the likely effect on jobs we need only look at the North American Free Trade Agreement (between the United States, Canada, and Mexico), which also promised hundreds of thousands of jobs but in fact resulted in the loss of more than a million.
     Public services and government procurement contracts would be opened up, creating new privatised markets for transnational corporations, particularly in the fields of health, education, water, and housing—which explains the disinvestment by the Irish government in those areas: they are preparing the way for privatisation.
     Furthermore, local authority procurement contracts would be opened up to the private sector. This means that important social and environmental goals and protections would no longer be allowed.
     Massive job losses, wage reductions, banking deregulation, environmental and safety deregulation, the privatisation of public utilities and services, and the vetting by corporations of proposed national government regulations—you would think it couldn’t get worse. But it can.
     In all its recent trade agreements the United States has built in an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) mechanism. It also wishes to see this as part of TTIP, which would mean that transnational corporations would be able to sue national governments over any existing legislation that would inhibit profit-making. ISDS makes transnational capital the equal of sovereign states, which threatens to undermine the most basic principles of democracy.
     Under ISDS, transnational corporations would be able to bring states to a tribunal outside the normal legal system, administered by corporate lawyers. Several countries are already being sued under ISDS, including Sweden, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Ecuador. In Australia the tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing the Australian government for introducing plain packaging on cigarettes. Ecuador was fined €1.77 billion for ending the oil contract with Occidental Petroleum after the company broke Ecuadorian law. In another tribunal Ecuador was refused a claim for €19 billion against Chevron for damage the company did to the Ecuadorian rain forest.
     TTIP is something more than a trade agreement: it is an imperialist geopolitical strategy, with three clear purposes:
     (1) an imposed economic and regulatory hegemony between the EU and the United States, resulting in the loss of 600,000 jobs, worsening conditions of employment, and wage reductions, massive privatisations of public utilities and services, and deregulation in banking and environmental protection and in health and safety;
     (2) a reduction of the powers of sovereign states over their own regulatory legislation, which would be vetted by transnational corporations, which could sue states over any legislation that negatively affected their profit;
     (3) the isolation of Russia and the creation of a bulwark against China and against Asian energy supplies. As Anthony Gardner recently stated, “there are critical geo-strategic reasons to get this deal done, and every day I am reminded of the global context of why we are negotiating TTIP.” And, “just look at what is happening in the Middle East, or Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. We need this deal to help solidify further the transatlantic alliance, to provide an economic equivalent to NATO, and to set the rules of world trade before others do it for us. There are many reasons why this agreement is not only important, it is vital.”
     The capitalist crisis of 2008 provided the cover for capitalism to attack the hard-won living standards of workers. TTIP would be a frontal assault on all the gains workers have achieved not only in wages and working conditions but in social support, environmental protection, health and safety, personal privacy, and financial regulation. Social-democratic government would be eviscerated, becoming a mere fig leaf for corporatism.
     Irish government ministers have been falling over themselves to praise TTIP; but such is the level of secrecy surrounding it that ministers are not involved in the negotiation of the treaty. They can only see documents related to TTIP under very restricted circumstances, and are not allowed to take copies. They would have no say in the final agreement. Ministers have exposed themselves for the collaborators they are. They represent the interests of international capital and the imperialist powers and have no regard for the interests of their own citizens.
     While hundreds of thousands have demonstrated in Europe against TTIP, there has been no similar response here in Ireland. The trade unions have complained about it but have done little by way of organising the people against it. The mainstream media have virtually ignored it. An international trade agreement that would devastate the working class is staring us in the face, yet little or nothing is being done to offer even a token defence.
     Trade unions are meant to be the protectors of workers. It is imperative that they rally Irish workers to reject this agreement, rather than walking them into this nightmare.

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