Saturday 11 October is a busy day. As well as the Global Frack Down for a ban on fracking, there will be an international day of action, including many events in the UK, in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement currently being negotiated by Europe and the US. Campaigners say the planned deal will put more power into the hands of corporations, taking it away from citizens. In the Autumn issue of Transition Free Press, Joseph Blake explains the controversy.
The TTIP aims to create the largest free trade zone in the world. But there are fears that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism within the agreement would give corporations the power to sue governments through secret courts, if legislation is implemented which negatively impacts profits.
“Through this provision, [corporations’] legal status is effectively made equivalent to that of the nation state itself – making states accountable to corporations,” says Adam Parsons of the Share the World’s Resources group.
ISDS rules are already being used elsewhere: under provisions in the the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Canadian mining company Pacific Rim has filed a $300m lawsuit against El Salvador over a moratorium on metal mining because of water contamination.
“TTIP is part of a massive trade offensive that’s going to hand over massive amounts of power to corporations to rule over our society,” says Nick Dearden, director of the World Development Movement. “It’s the worst corporate offensive we’ve seen for 20 years.”
Over 120 European NGOs and charitable organisations oppose TTIP (also called the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement in the US). A European Commission public consultation on the ISDS provisions received over 100,000 submissions.
The National Health Service is a big focus of the anti-TTIP campaign. “If this goes through it will mean that any Clinical Commissioning Group anywhere in England could be challenged – sued – by a US private healthcare company,” warns Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary.
Food standards could also be lowered. For example, in the US, 90% of chicken carcasses are washed with chlorine to get rid of the bacteria and 68% of food on the shelves contains GM. Such processes are banned across most of Europe but under the TTIP this might no longer be the case and a whole range of regulation on food, the environment, cosmetics and labour rights could disappear.
It could become harder for countries to refuse developments, such as fracking, on environmental grounds. There are also fears that the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive could be undermined to make it easier to export oil from the Canadian tar sands to Europe.
Joe Nixon is from REPOWERBalcombe, a project attempting to generate all power needs of the community of Balcombe in Sussex from clean, renewable sources following fracking protests in the area last summer. “This is just another example of governments trying to force us to use forms of energy that people don’t want,” he says. “The choices we are making in Balcombe are the same choices Britain faces as a nation – and if we could choose for ourselves instead of our government forcing decisions on us, we would choose renewables.”
Joseph Blake is a freelance journalist, co-founder of Transition Heathrow and campaigner with Plane Stupid, People’s Parliament, SQUASH (Squatters Action For Secure Homes) & Edge Fund.