Trade Minister must take action against undemocratic trade treaty

16 September 2014

Trade Minister must take action against undemocratic trade treaty

16 Sep 2014 On 10th September the Dutch Parliament debated two major investment treaties with Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), between the EU and the US, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), between the EU and Canada. These treaties create one big internal market covering all of the countries involved. Ploumen sees for the most part advantages in these treaties, joyfully claiming that ‘the whole world will profit from the TTIP’, but in doing so she turns a blind eye to the dangers they bring.

Jasper van Dijk

Negotiations over the TTIP are still going on, but an agreement was reached over the CETA in August. In common with the TTIP, the CETA covers large sections of the European Union economy and, in this case, of the Canadian economy. The aim is to remove barriers to trade in meat, fish, cars, telecommunications, financial services and countless other products. When it comes to economic growth and jobs, the leaders of the EU’s governments and of Canada are promising an El Dorado. The CETA, like the TTIP, will be a panacea against the crisis.

Meanwhile the number of critics is growing. The treaties represent a threat to numerous social standards which would be lowered under the guise of ‘harmonisation’. Furthermore, free trade treaties can cost livelihoods, as has been demonstrated by NAFTA, which turned a million Mexican farmers off their land. Finally, the treaties include a so-called ‘investment protection clause’, which gives foreign corporations the right to take governments to court in the form of a supranational tribunal when policies are carried which don’t suit them.

In addition to problems regarding the content, the negotiations are proceeding in the utmost secrecy. The draft texts under discussion are secret. Social organisations and national parliaments have no real chance to exercise any democratic control. The Lisbon Treaty makes it mandatory for trade accords to be handled by the Commission, greatly reducing the role of national parliaments.

Demonstration against the TTIP on 19th May 2014

As a result of widespread social protest against investment protection the European Commission launched a consultation on the investment chapter in the TTIP. As many as 150,000 for the most part critical reactions were received, but these can change virtually nothing with regard to what has now been agreed between the EU and Canada. One salient detail: even Germany, and Jean-Claude Juncker, prior to his appointment as head of the European Commission, let it be known that they had objections to investment protection.

Despite all of these objections, the train steamed on. Recently the Commission received a request from almost 230 social organisations from twenty-one member states to register a Citizens Initiative requesting that the Brussels executive “recommend to the Council to repeal the negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and not to conclude the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).” The organisations were seeking to halt the negotiations on the TTIP and CETA, but their request was refused on the grounds that only the Commission has the right to negotiate on investment treaties.

It is this arrogance on the part of the Commission which undermines the democratic legitimacy of such treaties. In our national Parliament Minister Ploumen insists that she understands Members’ concerns and will pass them on to the EU’s negotiator, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht. But that isn’t enough. She must call for a postponement of the signing of the CETA until such time as the Commission is willing to be completely open about the treaty’s contents. The specifications in the CETA will in large measure point the way to the TTIP, a treaty yet more inclusive and one which can do great damage to national authority. Once signed, it will be almost impossible to get these powers back.

It’s time that Minister Ploumen showed us where she stands: with a right-wing free trade agenda which will be introduced in an undemocratic fashion, or with fair trade under democratic control.

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