Naked Politics Blogger
The ‘immigration question’ undoubtedly leads the coverage of the upcoming EU referendum. Groups such as UKIP and some elements of the Conservative Party decry a lack of control of our borders as the principle reason for the United Kingdom to exit stage left in the operatic spectacle that is the European Union.
But there is a more pernicious, and much less publicised reason to vote Leave come June, and that is TTIP (pronounced ‘tea-tip’, apparently). The ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ doesn’t sound very sexy, and perhaps this is part of the reason why it’s lurked outside of the public consciousness.
I don’t much care about immigration. Much of Britain’s history consists of raping and pillaging in other countries, so for us to clutch our pearls and exclaim about foreigners coming here to work hard and contribute, seems slightly hypocritical.
In addition to this, the European Court of Human Rights guarantees us fundamental human rights that the Tories, if left unchecked, would quite happily violate in the stampede to suck up to the Americans and secure bigger profits for their vested interests.
However, TTIP is where I draw the line. In short, it creates the world’s largest free trade bloc: harmonising standards across Europe and the US and in theory boosting the size of the EU economy by £94bn.
Yet it would also allow big business to dictate policies to elected governments by giving corporations the power to sue governments who pass legislation which affect their profits. This could theoretically include laws enacting stricter health and safety regulations, or raising the minimum wage.
Similar arrangements elsewhere have already led to TransCanada suing the American government for $15bn for rejecting plans for an environmentally harmful oil pipeline in Canada. When Germany closed all of it’s nuclear power station in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Swedish energy company Vattenfall filed a lawsuit, demanding $6b of compensation from the German government. In addition to this, cigarette company Philip Morris sued the Australian government for plain cigarette packaging laws. They lost, but not until after the Australian government had spent A$50m of taxpayer money fighting it.
If governments know that passing laws which protect their citizens could open the door for multi-national corporations to take them to court, they are less likely to pass these laws. Conglomerations would then be holding democratically elected governments to ransom.
Another key aspect of the trade deal is, like mentioned earlier, co-ordinating standards. The United States is less stringent when it comes to regulating, for example: food safety. More than 75% of processed food sold in the US contains genetically modified ingredients. It allows meat to be washed in chemical baths, and pumps it full of growth hormones which are linked to cancer. All of these are banned by the EU, which therefore means that most American meat can’t be sold over here.
The EU is also far stricter on potentially harmful chemicals. In the EU, a company has to prove that a substance is safe before it can be used. It’s the inverse in America, where a substance can be used until it’s proven unsafe. Therefore the EU currently bans over a thousand substances while the US bans just 12.
Matching standards, which inevitably would mean lowering the EU’s standards to match the Americans’, means that these currently banned products would be allowed to be sold here.
Americans also have fewer rights for workers, which means that creating a free trade bloc with them could see a loss of jobs from EU member states to America. The EU even acknowledges this, recommending that governments draw on the European Support Fund to offset expected unemployment. This was seen in other trade deals similar to TTIP, such as NAFTA. This trade agreement between Canada, the USA and Mexico, saw the loss of a million jobs to Mexico because of their lower wages and laxer labour laws.
What’s even more damning is that the whole operation is shrouded in secrecy. Nearly everything we know about it comes from leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. MPs were finally permitted to see documents related to it, but were only allowed to take pencil and paper into the viewings. Other documents relating to the negotiations have been denied release to the public. Business Secretary Sajid David denied a Freedom of Information request, saying that civil servants “need space in which to seek candid advice from their lawyers”, whatever that means.
If TTIP is the great hope come to save economies then why is it being conducted in such secrecy?
The answer is simple. It is because TTIP is designed to benefit big business. The bureaucrats in Brussels would have you believe that there will be a trickle-down, and that we will all profit. But the undemocratic nature of these talks indicates that this is simply not true.
What’s even more odd is the media silence surrounding it. Several newspapers have written about it, but it’s never been headline news, which surely it deserves to be. The media as a whole seems more interested in spouting xenophobic rhetoric than exposing this threat to our democracy, our jobs, and even the food that we eat.
This beast is lurking below the fold and under the radar, but hopefully someday soon it will be exposed.