Viviane Straub explains
Through collecting signatures in St Andrews for support to make Fife a TTIP free zone, it became apparent how few residents had heard of TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), and how it threatens democracy. The problem? EU and US negotiators are busy discussing a new trade deal that could harm local and regional governments, and remove regulatory barriers (such as social standards and labour rights). Most worrisome of all, TTIP could enable large corporations to sue sovereign governments for the loss of profits caused by public policy decisions. All this is happening behind closed doors, preventing any information from being leaked.
Although trade deals normally focus on the reduction of tariffs and quotas to increase trade, this is not the case with TTIP. The focus of this deal will be placed on ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’; the reduction of environmental, health and safety regulations currently protecting our welfare by restricting how Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) maximise profit. These regulations represent some of our most valued standards including ‘food safety rules (restrictions of GMOs), the use of toxic chemicals […], and new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis’.*
Any future measures considered important in the protection of our welfare, would be subject to a complex process in which the interests of corporations would have to be taken into account. Many people therefore fear that products currently banned in the EU such as hormone-treated meat, could enter our markets. Furthermore, whilst the EU currently lists 1,377 chemicals banned from use in cosmetics, this number stands solely at 11 in the US. Under TTIP, the same will prevail in Europe.
Alongside these problems, public services will be opened up to competition from the private sector. Companies such as Virgin are already running ‘frontline health care services’. Finally, the briefly mentioned Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) mechanism, enabling companies to prosecute governments in corporate courts for loss of profits, has the potential to threaten the most basic principles of democracy. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris is suing the Australian government for selling cigarettes in plain packaging, Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for deciding to phase out nuclear energy, and Lone Pine is suing the Canadian government for putting a temporary ban on fracking in Quebec. TTIP therefore has the potential to override the rights of the people, in favour of transnational corporations. The overall aim of this deal thus lies in facilitating profit maximisation, whilst simultaneously increasing corporate power and consequently undermining the capacity of governments.
More importantly, under TTIP, the powers of local governments, including Fife, will also be diluted. If a local authority decides to take services back under public control, the UK could be sued for billions of pounds. Existing powers, such as the ability to deny planning permission for fracking could be affected, as well as the provision of local public services and procurement, giving greater access to markets and subsequently threatening the local economy. Yet change can happen if we continue to be critical and make our voices heard. Fife provides clear evidence for this: through collective opposition the Fife council has recently declared this area a TTIP free zone.