European protests condemn unfair ‘trade’ deals

Brussels, September 20

Thousands of protesters marched through Brussels on September 20 to demand the European Union abandon planned trans-Atlantic free trade deals they say will worsen labour conditions and allow big business to challenge governments.

It came just days after tens of thousands rallied against such deals on September 17 in other European cities, mainly in Germany.

Their targets were the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the European Union and the United States are still negotiating, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) struck between the EU and Canada that is awaiting ratification.

Organisers of the Brussels protest, including unions, environmental and consumer groups and public health insurers, said between 10,000 and 15,000 people protested.

Greenpeace activists in chemical protection suits spray-painted “No TTIP” and “No CETA” on the roads. Several tractors led a large crowd carrying placards to the European Commission, which is responsible for negotiating trade deals.

Two large inflatable horses had been placed outside the Commission headquarters, one labelled TTIP, the other CETA. Critics say the CETA is a Trojan horse that will usher in the wider TTIP accord.

There is a growing popular backlash in the West against free trade and globalisation, which critics blame for factory closures and depressed wages. Anti-TTIP and CETA groups say the trade deals would hand more power to multinationals and degrade food, environmental and labour standards.

Both the TTIP and CETA were the focus of a meeting of trade ministers in Slovakia on September 23. French and German politicians have said TTIP talks have effectively failed or should be suspended, but there is broader support for CETA.

CETA could enter into force next year if member states and the European Parliament approve it. The chances of that happening rose on September 19 after the German Social Democratic Party, junior partners in the ruling coalition, gave its backing. However, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia still have reservations.

Another target for protesters is the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), a planned service sector deal between 23 countries or blocs, including the United States and Pakistan.

Greenpeace and other campaign groups say that any such deal would limit national governments’ ability to regulate, such as in financial services, and impose liberalisation at the expense of workers’ rights in developing countries.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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