Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pressure Works: Fighting Back Against The Big Business FTA Agenda

I've just returned from an invigorating meeting at UNISON, where the anti-TTIP alliance of faith groups, local groups, unions, green campaigners, and concerned citizens have been discussing their progress so far. The news is actually very encouraging.

The speakers

Welcome and introduction (Dr. Klaus Sühl and Paul Foley, Unison)
• John Hilary (War on Want, UK)
• Dr Gabriel Siles-Brügge (University of Manchester)
• Melinda St. Louis (Public Citizen, US)
• Ulrike Herrmann (Journalist die tageszeitung, Germany)
• Nick Dearden (World Development Movement, UK)

This is a mostly left-leaning coalition. I was probably the only Pirate there. And what of UKIP? "Market forces are at work," they bleat. So much for national sovereignty.

10/07 strike action

Unison's Paul Foley explained that tomorrow's strike by multiple unions is about TTIP. Teaching is one of the professions likely to be hit particularly hard as the American Charter School movement eats into our educational system. The profit-first ones tend to use the least qualified teachers and have a high turnover rate.

TTIP's history

Dr. Klaus Sühl followed him, providing some background on TTIP. It began in July 2013. The EU Commission and the US negotiators have bi-monthly meetings in secret. Now they're getting to the nitty-gritty. The US is under pressure to get this done before the election season starts in 2016. This is not your average FTA as it's not really about tariffs. There are two main parts:

1) It's about reducing barriers by deregulating social, environmental, and safety standards. The spread of the private sector into public services and procurement. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 is an example of the stealthy way the government has been laying the foundations for TTIP. Basically, it's privatizing the NHS one service at a time.
2) It's a transfer of power to foreign capital. The investor-state dispute system allows corporations to sue governments for lost profits and citizens have no standing because they're not investors.

  • Veolia sued Egypt's government for raising the minimum wage
  • Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over warnings on cigarette packs and anti-smoking laws
  • Occidental sued Ecuador over VAT and seizing its assets over a farm-out agreement that breached its contract

This is supposed to be a template for future agreements, the aim of which is a world run by and for big business. Up next was Dr. Gabriel Siles-Brügge.

The promise

Jobs, growth, and escape from recession. Hold on, didn't the deregulation of banks that they want to enact cause the Credit Crunch and subsequent recession? £120Bn per annum was promised by Karel de Gucht, who has hailed the agreement as the cheapest stimulus package. However, the figures he quotes come from CGE modelling, or "Supply-side economics," as the rest of us call it because it assumes an efficient market with equality of supply and demand. Well that's not true because the market is not free. Needless to say, all the parameters are drawn from lobbyists. Making over-simplistic assumptions, proponents overplay the benefits and downplay the costs — which are not really accounted for.

TTIP is all about eliminating barriers to trade, and they aim to get rid of 50% of the ones they have identified to enable the free flow of capita, and by that they mean laws that protect public health and wellbeing, and procurement policies.

If you oppose it, you are cast as anti-growth. Kenneth Clarke MP is Senior Cabinet Minister and the Prime Minister’s Trade Representative. He's responsible for negotiating TTIP and he has told Dr. Siles-Brügge that he doesn't really believe in the figures, and that people have been told not to use them because they've been discredited.

Next: Public Citizen and the American angle. To be continued...

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