Rise Up Against TTIP… and keep rising!

Rise Up Against TTIP… and keep rising!

Date: 13 October 2015

The fightback against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – an extremely dangerous trade deal being negotiated by the EU and the US – is undoubtedly building steam, but we must further step up our efforts to raise awareness, organise and mobilise. That is the conclusion I came to at the end of Rise Up Against TTIP, an incredibly energetic and inspiring rally at a packed out Conway Hall on the evening of Saturday 10 October. Earlier that day, as many as 250,000 people had taken to the streets in Berlin to protest against TTIP. Back in London, Friends of the Earth’s Asad Rehman was not alone in asserting that, as much as activists and campaigners in the UK have achieved, “we need to build a movement like Germany.”

Virtually everything about TTIP stands in direct opposition to democratic values. In terms of process, this trade agreement is being drawn up in secret. Even our elected representatives aren’t allowed to participate in the negotiations. In Conway Hall, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell confirmed how powerless MPs and MEPs are when it comes to TTIP as he said “we’re not allowed to see the information.” In terms of content, the key to understanding TTIP is that it has very little to do with facilitating trade and a great deal to do with massively strengthening corporate power. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone put it better than Students against TTIP’s Ash Lambert: TTIP is fundamentally about “putting corporations’ right to make a profit above the rights of humanity.” That is why more than 3 million European citizens have signed a petition calling on the European Commission to ditch TTIP.

Supporters of TTIP vastly overstate the potential gains of any agreement and ignore the enormous threats that it poses. Perhaps the most terrifying element of the negotiations is the proposed inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause. ISDS is a mechanism that allows investors to sue states if any action (such as a new regulation or a court ruling) by a state reduces the investor’s profits. ISDS already exists in other trade agreements. Philip Morris, for instance, is suing the Government of Uruguay for increasing the size of health warnings on cigarette packs. Another example is how the French waste and energy company Veolia sued the Egyptian government when it raised the minimum wage.

But there is so much more that is wrong with TTIP. It risks creating a race to the bottom in a range of areas. At the rally last Saturday, the Green Party’s leader Natalie Bennett spoke about how food and environmental safety standards in Europe could be lowered to match the weaker standards of the US. In a similar vein, Unite the Union’s Adrian Weir highlighted the threat to labour rights in Europe, as the US has only ratified two of the International Labour Organization’s eight core labour standards. And most of the speakers, as well as a number of voices from the floor, raised concerns about the potential for privatising public utilities and services in the name of ‘competition’, even though the private sector-dominated American healthcare system is a case study in inefficiency and ineffectiveness. It’s for these and other reasons that we need to make TTIP “a politically toxic issue,” in the words of Artists Against TTIP’s Carrie Cracknell.

So how do we move forwards and achieve this? The first thing we must do is understand that there is a bigger picture here. TTIP is just one of three trade deals that the EU is currently negotiating in secret. The second is with Canada (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and the third is a wider agreement with 23 other countries (the Trade in Services Agreement). As the criticisms that apply to TTIP also broadly apply to the other two trade deals, all of them must be vigorously resisted. Moreover, a similar trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has recently been agreed amongst 12 North American, Australasian and East Asian countries, although it has to be approved in line with the national procedures of each country (in the US this means a mighty battle in Congress has already begun).

Of course, we also have to understand that, if these trade agreements come into force, they will likely act as a blueprint for future trade deals that involve the world’s poorest countries. These are the same countries that already have to constantly confront damaging trade policies foisted upon them by rich countries. Therefore, for the world’s most vulnerable people, this new wave of trade deals could make things even worse.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. We need to persuade the people in our lives – in educational institutions, in workplaces, in social and cultural groups and in political organisations – that TTIP and related trade agreements are going to endanger our health, our environment, our ability to fight poverty and our democracy. And then we need to encourage and support these people to challenge their elected representatives and participate in protests that bring together the whole global justice movement. To quote Global Justice Now’s Nick Dearden, “we’re on the front foot… we can win!”