TTIP trade deal on the ropes, but threat remains real

May 6, 2016
Protest against TTIP. Hanover, Germany, April 23.

Could things get any worse for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the United States and the European Union?

On May 2, a hugely damaging leak of TTIP texts confirmed exactly what everyone had feared about the deal — with all its hugely pro-corporate provisions on display for everyone to see.

The next day, the French government launched one of the most high-profile attacks on TTIP ever seen. Whether TTIP survives these body blows is debatable, but it is almost fatally wounded.

French President Francois Hollande is lagging in the polls and his threat to block TTIP could be seen as a gambit to shore up some votes. But it is a reflection of the popular mood in the country, where the media's negative reporting on TTIP has soared in recent days.

Hollande said at a conference that he could not accept “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets”.

France's lead trade negotiator Matthias Fekl now thinks talks will be halted. He said the EU had bent over backwards to offer the US what it wants, but the generosity has not been reciprocated.

This is reflected in the leaks which hit the headlines on May 2. The leaks contain indications that the EU's precautionary principle (do not allow things on the market until proven safe) may be sacrificed in favour of the US so-called “scientific principle” (do not ban anything from sale until it is proven dangerous).

The news from France is already causing arguments and tension in the European Commission. The British camp will be livid, with Prime Minister David Cameron having previously claimed that TTIP was his own idea.

Last year, he announced he wanted to put rocket boosters under the negotiations. Now, he will be wanting to fit stabilisers.

There is a danger, however, in framing TTIP as a battle between the squabbling components of the EU and the US. TTIP is essentially a means for the corporate world to impose its agenda on the rest of society.
Negotiators on both sides are doing the bidding of a highly effective and resourced corporate lobby. It is only the continent-wide resistance of ordinary people that is causing them problems.

The TTIP may be on the ropes, we still face a grave danger from Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a similar deal that's a lot closer to being ratified and implemented between the EU and Canada.

CETA is effectively a back door to TTIP, with any US corporation operating in Canada able to exploit its provisions to sue EU governments should they take decisions that may impact on expected profit margins.

In June, the EU Council will see European governments come together to ratify CETA. Although final government approval is expected in September, the June meeting is the last chance for European governments to raise serious objections.

The council could agree on “provisional implementation” for CETA — a process which allows the European Commission to bring trade deals into effect before national parliaments have had the chance to debate, and reject, an international treaty.

This means that the vast majority of CETA could be legally binding as early as next year, long before the British parliament has examined the deal. This includes the now infamous corporate court system.

In other words, a corporate case could be brought against the British government before parliament has ratified CETA. If TTIP is truly on its knees, we need to double our efforts to prevent this similarly toxic deal from being ushered in through the back door.

[Abridged from the Morning Star.]

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