Through a process called “regulatory harmonisation”, big business would be able to sue governments for imposing standards or regulations which would restrict their operations and profits. In practise, this would mean that any health and safety regulations, any laws protecting workers’ rights and any protected publicly owned bodies could be nullified by private companies.
During the independence referendum, it was claimed that though the NHS in England was being privatised, at least the Scottish NHS was safe in public hands. Under TTIP regulations this would not be true, as private enterprises would be able to challenge public investment in any publicly-owned bodies, including the NHS, and compete for any investment without having to abide by any of the protective legislation we have in place.
Not only would this make the protection and extension of the public sector impossible, but it would prevent governments doing anything about it! The mechanism for achieving this and over-ruling any government intervention is an “arbitration” device called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
This device is already in operation in many so-called trade/investor agreements throughout the world whereby decision are made in secret, off-shore, usually by a panel of corporate lawyers to determine if there is any loss of revenue suffered by private investors through legitimate state restrictions. The opening paragraph of an article on ISDS in the free-market oriented, right-wing journal The Economist, hardly a friend of socialists, is worth quoting:
“If you wanted to convince the public that international trade agreements are a way to let international companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people, this is what you would do: give foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes a law to, say, discourage smoking, protect the environment or prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Yet that is precisely what thousands of trade and investment treaties over the past half century have done, through a process known as ‘investor state dispute settlement’”.
And that is precisely what TTIP intends to incorporate in its legislation. Lest it be felt that this is unduly alarmist here is what three ISDS agreements are determining. Occidental, the oil giant, is suing Ecuador, through ISDS, for $2.3billion over its perfectly legal termination of Occidental’s oil concession contract; Vatenfall, a Swedish company, is suing Germany for $4.7billion for loss of earnings over the closure of two nuclear plants which it operated; and Philip Morris are demanding a huge sum for loss of earnings as the Australian Government has determined that cigarettes must be sold in plain packets.
No wonder Brazil, for example, has refused to have anything to do with ISDS agreements and South Africa is trying to disentangle itself from such agreements. Yet, that is what is being proposed under the US-EU TTIP proposal, not surprisingly with the enthusiastic support of Conservative ministers. Disappointingly, with some notable exceptions, the Westminster opposition and even our SNP government has been remarkably quiet on this proposed massive erosion of our public liberties.
The appalling nature of TTIP and its particularly nasty ISDS appendage is still little understood at large and the support of Barack Obama and the European Commission makes its advance towards legislation more certain, but public pressure can still halt, or at least modify its advance.
The European TUC has set out its minimum requirements for change, namely the removal of ISDS, protection for public services and standards equivalent to ILO conventions (to which, incidentally, the USA has not signed up to). In the UK, Unite the trade union has been particularly vocal in its opposition and its Glasgow Retired Members’ Branch, for example, has been out on the streets of Glasgow campaigning particularly to get the NHS excluded from TTIP.
Public pressure must be amplified and more efforts made to make our MEPs, in particular, aware of the dangers of TTIP, for the European Parliament still has the power to vote against TTIP’s implementation. MPs and MEPs must also be lobbied and civic bodies, including trade unions and churches, must be made aware of the dangers facing us.
Public opposition is beginning to have an impact and Jean Claude Juncker, the incoming President of the European Commission, who has recently indicated that ISDS is not necessarily an integral part of TTIP. Finally, campaigning bodies such as StopTTIP, 38degrees and War on Want are running vigorous campaigns and the more who join with them, the more chances of success in stopping this wicked legislation there is!