Nessa Childers MEP – T’TIPing the balance for Global Justice?
Social Justice Ireland Seminar – 16th February 2016
Firstly can I think Social Justice Ireland for inviting me here today, and for putting the TTIP talks in the context of global justice and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Before we focus on TTIP in particular, I want to also mention other ongoing trade deals which could have an impact on the Sustainable Development Goals and these are: CETA (The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) the free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (yet to be ratified by all EU member states) TiSA The Trade in Services Agreement currently being negotiated by 23 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including the EU. and finally TPP (the trans Pacific Partnership).
Combined these trade talks have the potential to supplant the ability of governments to initiate new legislation in critical areas such as public health, employee legislation and food safety.
Neither TTIP nor CETA (the EU trade deal with Canada) are traditional trade agreements to reduce tariffs on imports between trading partners. These types of agreements are already in place, instead the main goal of TTIP and CETA is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.
But these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, costs of medicines, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced by the EU to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.
The overriding objective of the TTIP agreement, as it is called, is to facilitate trade to the greatest extent possible. Therefore my concern and the concerns of many others are centred on the question – how can we trade with the US when that country has vastly different standards – for example around food safety and employment law?
Because of these concerns, last year more than 1 million citizens around Europe signed a petition opposing the trade deal, and demanding the end to the negotiations. Then the European Ombudsman criticised the EU Commission’s inadequate transparency and public access to documents in relation to TTIP
Many MEPS and NGOs fear that strong consumer protection legislation is being stalled because of TIIP. For example, I want to see legislation in place to address the dangers of endocrine or hormone disrupters before the end of this parliamentary term. This would be way overdue if it were to be approved today, but it has proved extremely difficult, and many in Brussels suspect that this and other files have been stalled pending the conclusion of the TTIP negotiations, in the hope that common ground will be reached with the US.
Another problematic component is that could involve special investor courts to allow business and corporations to sue governments through closed arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which would by-pass domestic courts and parliaments.
Stopping these special investor courts personal are a red line for me when the deal in its entirety comes before the European Parliament. And the court action against Ireland, over the plain tobacco packaging bill, from the owners of Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut cigarette brands shows how dangerous it is to give multinational corporations legal fora to challenge governments over public policy decisions. What is happening in Ireland goes to show the obvious. Multinational corporations will hold any available legal gun to the taxpayer’s head to stop public policy-making in its tracks, whenever this policy risks harming their profits. But at least the Irish state will be fighting big tobacco on behalf of the Irish citizens in a proper court of law. The special investor courts would remove this transparency.
If the trade agreement is passed with such a clause, the legal battleground can well move to a private arbitration forum, an opaque netherworld where the best paid legal suits stand an even better chance of ripping off the taxpayer as punishment for public interest policy that costs big business money.
So what are the next steps in these talks? The European Parliament will have the final say on TTIP, in a single, ‘yay or nay’-type vote. Thanks to a prerogative in place since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, Parliament has to consent to every international treaty the European Union enters into so that it can be ratified by the Union.
The parliament was due to vote on a preliminary report on TTIP last July, but the vote was postponed. Officially it was postponed due to the number and complexities of amendments and possibility of spilt votes, in other words it’s highly likely the vote on the TTIP report would have failed or reached an impasse. I regret this postponement, and believe that MEPs should have had a chance to show their support or otherwise for this controversial trade deal, and that the democratic process should not be halted.
I believe that mounting pressure from the public and campaign groups played a strong role in ensuring that public concerns were not ignored in the run up to this vote last July. Since the new parliament was elected there has been a highly effective public awareness campaign run by Trade Unions, environmental and civil society groups.
Another development occurred earlier this month when the German Association of Magistrates declared that the proposed investment tribunal included in the TTIP talks lacked a legal basis. This is a major blow to the Commission’s attempt at appeasing the US trade lobby, which is hell-bent on normalising an international regime that was devised decades ago to deal with far-flung corners of the globe with dubious legal systems.
To conclude the business lobby are upfront about their aim of creating ‘global convergence toward EU-US standards’ and this would ultimately see free trade policies forced on poorer countries, that they have had no part in negotiating.
I believe that global south and developing countries will come under huge pressure to apply TTIP / CETA standards to avoid losing trade. Consequently the impact of these trade talks on the Sustainable Development Goals urgently need examination at UN level before the talks conclude and before CETA is ratified.
Nationally and internationally governments cannot on one hand claim to support development goals – while on the other hand allow secretive trade talks that will have a huge impact on the same governments’ ability to introduce legislation!
These talks are being presented as facilitating trade which will lead to job creation and profits – and any criticism is turned into a threat to jobs and the ordinary person’s ability to earn a living.
But these talks are taking place without a wider set of principles underpinning the outcome – principles of social justice and environmental sustainability and I believe this is a dangerous path to follow.