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EU has still learnt nothing from opposition to TTIP

1 March 2018

EU has still learnt nothing from opposition to TTIP

We were after all clear enough about this: treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the TTIP, are not wanted. Nobody's got anything against trade which is fair, but what we don't want are the sort of measures from the European Commission which mean that it's party time for multinationals. This was shown by the number of signatures on petitions, the number of letters I received from people in all walks of life, the huge numbers of demonstrators who got out on the streets, and the incomparable number of people who took the trouble to participate in the debate. Yet in the new mega-treaties that are on their way – with Mexico (population 124 million), Japan (126 million) and the Mercosur countries of South America (126 million) - there is nothing to suggest that the Commission has listened to what the people want for as much as a second.

By Anne-Marie Mineur

On paper the European Commission's plans don't look all that bad. Last spring Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström launched her ideas for a global trade strategy in a reflection paper in which she made a number of proposals aimed at making trade treaties fairer and greener, and thereby involving civil society and the member states to the greatest possible extent. The Commission acknowledges that globalisation creates winners and losers, and even admits that it sometimes contributes to increasing inequality. Their reaction to this is to promise improvements, for example in the protection of human rights, climate change mitigation and the promotion of collective labour agreements on the global level.

The reality, however, is completely different. The series of trade treaties currently being negotiated in such haste by the Commission with pretty much the entire world are trade treaties of an old and familiar stamp, which is to say that they're aimed at getting rid of the laws and other measures which protect people, animals and the environment; at the creation of special advice councils which give multinationals a leading role in the development of future legislation; and, as a cherry on the cake, the establishment of an international court in which investors can assert their rights and lodge complaints against states if they believe that a national policy is threatening their profits. Meanwhile national democracy is going to be kicked into touch, because the Commission wants, above all, to conclude treaties in a process not requiring consultation of member states' parliaments. With these new treaties the Commission is favouring multinationals and the market above people and above democracy.

Take the treaty between the EU and the Mercosur countries Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. These countries will be given extremely generous access to the internal market. Meat from these countries is, however, cheaper - because it's mass-produced and under a regime involving labour-, environmental- and animal welfare standards which are far less strict than our own, if indeed they exist at all. Regarding these circumstances the European Food Safety authority (EFSA) has nothing to say. What this means is a race to the bottom for our own meat-producing farmers and that meat which only meets our strict EU standards if border controls are properly enforced. At the same time massive exports of meat from the Mercosur countries will mean large-scale deforestation in the Amazon region, yet the treaty contains no mechanisms to effectively combat the undermining of sustainability. A missed chance, because threats to and even the 'disappearing' of trade unionists, environmental activists or human rights defenders are the order of the day in these countries.

It's not hard to see who are the winners and losers from this type of treaty. The trade agreements which the Commission is currently forcing through are made for the 10% – the rest, 90% of people, have questioned them. Working conditions won't be improved, and small farmers, in both Europe and the countries with which it is drawing up such treaties, will be the losers when it comes to mass-production by out of control multinationals. There is no guarantee for the consumer in the EU that the meat on his or her plate meets the European food safety standards. And while national parliaments have had little influence on the content of these accords and will have no right to vote on them, Latin American and European multinationals will be first in the queue when anyone in the two trade blocs moves to make laws that touch upon commercial interests.

So much for the Commission's fine promises. The SP believes it's time for a radical change of direction and a trade agenda which turns words into deeds. Three principles must be our guide in this: democracy, solidarity and sustainability.

Democracy means that countries control the content of their trade treaties as well as their national policies. This means no special advisory councils for business, and no one-sided arbitration mechanisms which undermine the rule of law. Transparency and well-organised input from the public and NGOs would be the norm.

Solidarity includes ensuring that binding and enforceable human rights and labour rights are written into trade treaties. In addition the least developed countries must have the right to build their economies, if necessary by means of protectionist measures.

And finally the trade treaties ought to advance sustainability, not provide obstacles to it. The Paris Agreement led the way, just as do the Sustainable Development Goals. Polluting activities and destructive farming schemes have no place in trade treaties.

If that means that the accords with Japan, Mexico and South America have to be transformed, then in the SP's view the choice should not be hard to make.

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