2l. Trade Agreements
Trade legislation and agreements give insight into the type of goals that government and corporate interests want to achieve. I have provided some examples of these below.
A few years ago there was an EU Directive on Herbal Medicine. This was not a trade agreement as such but was named ‘Codex Alimentarius’, a Latin title presumably contrived to limit the interest of as many people as possible.
New legislation concerning food and health, is often applied under the guise of ‘safety’ and ‘harmonisation’, but it is structured to limit our choices and access to natural foods and alternative medicines.
New drugs are becoming hard for the chemical industries to find – not to mention expensive to develop. So why not just patent nature – take what we have away from us using legislation – and then sell it back to us for profit? Hence the birth of biopiracy! After all pirating nature is one way capitalism has worked for years.
Codex Alimentarius is a perfect example of the complicity between politicians and economic and financial powers, industry and state working together for their exclusive mutual benefit. This directive shows how governments are increasingly the lackeys of big business. Codex Alimentarius and the EU Directive has made legislation in Europe that effectively gave control of our foods and supplements, such as herbs, vitamins and ‘natural’ treatments into the hands of big business to do with as they will. Codex Alimentarius has attained its long-time goal of giving control of vitamins, supplements and food to pharmaceutical corporations – with much reduced dosages in commercially available herbal preparations, rendering them mostly ineffective – and once again putting the independents out of business.
According to John Hammell, a legislative advocate and the founder of International Advocates for Health Freedom (IAHF):
“… herbs, vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, amino acids and other natural remedies you have taken for granted most of your life will be gone. The name of the game for Codex Alimentarius is to shift all remedies into the prescription category so they can be controlled exclusively by the medical monopoly and its bosses, the major pharmaceutical firms.”
Another attempt by Big Corporate to take power and absolve themselves of any responsibility was called ‘The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’. From Lee Williams of the Independent; “It was a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It is, as John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, said: “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”
Since before TTIP negotiations began, the process has been secretive and undemocratic. This secrecy is on-going, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. But worryingly, the covert nature of the talks may well be the least of our problems. Here are six other reasons why we should be scared of TTIP, very scared indeed:
1 The NHS
Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean increased privatisation of the NHS.
2 Food and environmental safety
TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda will seek to bring EU standards on food safety and the environment closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70 per cent of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients. By contrast, the EU allows virtually no GM foods. The US also has far laxer restrictions on the use of pesticides. It also uses growth hormones in its beef which are restricted in Europe due to links to cancer. US farmers have tried to have these restrictions lifted repeatedly in the past through the World Trade Organisation and it is likely that they will use TTIP to do so again.
The same goes for the environment, where the EU’s REACH regulations are far tougher on potentially toxic substances. In Europe a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used; in the US the opposite is true: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. As an example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12.
3 Banking regulations
TTIP cuts both ways. The UK, under the influence of the all-powerful City of London, is thought to be seeking a loosening of US banking regulations. America’s financial rules are tougher than ours. They were put into place after the financial crisis to directly curb the powers of bankers and avoid a similar crisis happening again. TTIP, it is feared, will remove those restrictions, effectively handing all those powers back to the bankers.
Remember ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)? It was thrown out by a massive majority in the European Parliament in 2012 after a huge public backlash against what was rightly seen as an attack on individual privacy where internet service providers would be required to monitor people’s online activity. Well, it’s feared that TTIP could be bringing back ACTA’s central elements, proving that if the democratic approach doesn’t work, there’s always the back door. An easing of data privacy laws and a restriction of public access to pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials are also thought to be on the cards.
The EU has admitted that TTIP will probably cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower. It has even advised EU members to draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment.
Examples from other similar bi-lateral trade agreements around the world support the case for job losses. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico caused the loss of one million US jobs over 12 years, instead of the hundreds of thousands of extra that were promised.
TTIP’s biggest threat to society is its inherent assault on democracy. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.
ISDSs are already in place in other bi-lateral trade agreements around the world and have led to such injustices as in Germany where Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Here we see a public health policy put into place by a democratically elected government being threatened by an energy giant because of a potential loss of profit. Nothing could be more cynically anti-democratic.
There are around 500 similar cases of businesses versus nations going on around the world at the moment and they are all taking place before ‘arbitration tribunals’ made up of corporate lawyers appointed on an ad hoc basis, which according to War on Want’s John Hilary, are “little more than kangaroo courts” with “a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.”
So I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. I would vote against TTIP, except… hang on a minute… I can’t. Like you, I have no say whatsoever in whether TTIP goes through or not. All I can do is tell as many people about it as possible, as I hope, will you. We may be forced to accept an attack on democracy but we can at least fight against the conspiracy of silence”.
Pitched against a fortress of political, corporate and bureaucratic power, the campaign to halt this agreement looked hopeless. But in a miracle of sanity the agreement to totally hand over our sovereignty to US business was halted by the actions of individuals and groups protesting and has since been withdrawn – but the plan starkly demonstrates what Big Corporate is after, and they will keep coming. New secret trade-deals discussed between Theresa May and Donald Trump are already underway with the baton now handed to Boris Johnson.
No sooner than TTIP was stopped, came Ceta, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement’. From George Monbiot; “This ‘trade agreement’ threatens to lock in privatisation, making renationalisation (of Britain’s railways, say) or attempts by cities to take control of failing public services (as Joseph Chamberlain did in Birmingham in the 19th century, laying the foundations for modern social provision) impossible. Like TTIP, it uses a broad definition of both investment and expropriation to allow corporations to sue governments when they believe their “future anticipated profits” might be threatened by new laws.
Like TTIP, it restricts the ways in which governments may protect their people. It appears to prohibit, for example, rules that would prevent banks from becoming too big to fail. It seems to threaten our planning laws and other commonsense protections.
Anything not specifically exempted from the agreement is considered covered. In other words, if governments do not spot a potential hazard before the hazard emerges, they are stuck with it. The EU appears to have relinquished its ability, for example, to insist that investment and retail banking be separated.
CETA claims to be a trade treaty, but many of its provisions have little to do with trade. They are attempts to circumscribe democracy on behalf of corporate power. Millions of people in Europe and Canada want to emerge from the neoliberal era. But such treaties would lock us into it, allowing the politics we have rejected to govern us beyond the grave.
If parliaments reject this treaty, another deal is being prepared: the Trade in Services Agreement, which the EU is simultaneously negotiating with the US and 21 other nations. Theresa May’s government has expressed enthusiasm: her Department for International Trade says: “The UK remains committed to an ambitious Trade in Services Agreement.” So much for taking back control.
Corporate lobbyists and their captive governments have been seeking to impose such treaties for more than 20 years, starting with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (it was destroyed, like TTIP, by massive public protests, in 1998). Working in secrecy, without democratic consent, they will keep returning to the theme, in the hope of wearing down our resistance.
When you are told that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, this is what it means. This struggle will continue throughout your life. We have to succeed every time; they have to succeed only once. Never drop your guard. Never let them win”.
From ‘The Transatlantic Trade Deal TTIP May Be Dead, But Something Even Worse Is Coming’. George Monbiot.
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