TTIP's in trouble - but we need to stop all of it, not just bits of it


17 November 2014

It’s certainly good news that the French government has announced it will not sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement if the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism is included in the text. This, along with the incoming EU president Juncker hinting that it might be possible to jettison ISDS to make TTIP more palatable are signs of real weakness within the TTIP camp. David Cameron senses it and used a column in Monday’s Guardian to try to rally his troops, and shore up fast fading support for the deal.

A lot of attention in the campaign and debate around TTIP has centred on ISDS. And rightly so, it is a particularly pernicious part of the deal, allowing corporations their own cosy way of suing governments for millions if not billions of Euros, Pounds or occasionally Dollars. The mechanism is detailed elsewhere, and has correctly been the main target of many of the campaigns which have now covered every country in the EU and in the USA.

The UK’s government have been one of the main forces pushing for keeping ISDS in the deal, whilst making noises about sovereignty elsewhere, and at the same time as the French signalling their discontent in very strong terms, Cameron was decalring that he was going to put ‘rocket boosters’ on the negotiations in order to get the whole thing done and dusted earlier.

However, we do need to be wary. The sheer awfulness of ISDS makes it stand out as a target point for campaigners on TTIP. But this doesn’t mean dumping ISDS will make TTIP any more palatable as a deal. Without the enforcement of ISDS, the rules that governments will be obliged to abide by will remain untouched. And, let’s face it, corporations are not short of options when it comes to persuading bullying or otherwise coercing governments to do their bidding.

From the revolving door of ministers moving to and from the boards of big business and their lobbying organisations, to demanding favours and privileges in exchange for ‘jobs and investments’, corporate power is already too strong without the addition of ISDS. Corporations have managed to influence the TTIP discussions to a huge extent, they are in regular contact with negotiators.

Lobbying governments is an industry in itself with a huge amount of corporate investment, and some governments are more readily lobbied than others. Without ISDS, the same rules on trade and regulation will apply, the pressure from business to introduce ISDS or similar at a later date will be immense,

Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, former Chief Exec of HSBC, was until less than a year ago was Minister of State for Trade and Investment, he remains a serving Peer in the House of Lords and is now Chair of the Advisory Panel of TheCityUK, one of the loudest supporters of TTIP in the City of London. To suggest he would have no influence on TTIP negotiations seems fanciful.

There are many examples of corporations insisting on beneficial deals on tax and trade in exchange for setting up headquarters or factories in one country or another. The whole existence of Export Processing Zones depends on this power. Nissan famously set up a factory in Sunderland in the 1980s in exchange for very favourable terms in a tax break deal.

Of course we welcome the exclusion of this turbo power option for corporations in the TTIP process, but that exclusion does not make TTIP anywhere near an acceptable deal. It must be scrapped not merely tinkered with.

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