TTIPing the balance how?

WHAT'S HAPPENING with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the planned bilateral EU-US trade agreement? How will it affect us? Jude Kirton- Darling, MEP for the North East of England, briefed the NUJ's Freelance Industrial Council on this. The European Parliament only has a scrutiny role in TTIP and this is a very blunt power - MEPs can't amend TTIP, but they can vote to reject the whole thing.

The Parliament resolved in July to delineate "red lines" that TTIP must not cross. The trade agreement should not stop EU member states from "re-organising" (that is, nationalising) public services such as the NHS "according to the will of the electorate." But TTIP can "lock in" privatisation once it's started, by giving investors in other countries access, making it more difficult to "re-organise" public services.

There's also a red line on labour rights, which like many minimum standards are very different on each side of the Atlantic. All EU states sign up to International Labour Organization rules on labour rights, while half of US states have "right to work" strike-busting legislation. In Tennessee, the State governor overruled Volkswagen's attempts at collective bargaining with the United Auto Workers union. One threat is from "Investor State Dispute Settlements", which would be private tribunals arbitrating between corporations and governments.

The theory is that these are written into such agreements to protect investors from "expropriation" in foreign markets. In practice, tribunal decisions - behind closed doors - are based on commercial law. One alarming detail is that just one London law firm currently providing a third of all arbitrators. The European Parliament has agreed that for ISDSs, everything will be in the public domain.

The UK government is the biggest cheerleader for a neo-liberal version of TTIP. It wants to keep healthcare and adult education on the table, while other EU countries want to keep these out of it. US Democrat Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said some "very negative things already" about TTIP. The countries are about a third of the way to a deal on TTIP. US President Barack Obama has to initial a deal by November 2016. Jude feels the most likely outcome is that TTIP becomes a "building blocks" agreement, setting in motion subsequent deals on the specifics of pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and so on.

Some of journalism is covered by existing GATTS deals. There is talk of "broader trade in digital services". Jude says "audio-visual services" - such as film-making - have been excluded, but "written digital services are a bit of a grey zone - it's hard to tell what's in and what's affected."

What can we do? We need to demonstrate now to MEPs and to Westminster that "people outside the room care about it." The more public debate there is, the more MEPs can "open the box" about the backroom deals the "corporates" and their allies in governments are trying to pull off. So at the least write to your MP and MEP now.

Last modified: 15 Feb 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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