Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pressure Works: Fighting Back Against The Big Business FTA Agenda, Part 2

Public Citizen And The American Angle

As we learn more and more about TTIP and TISA, and realise where it's coming from, it's hard not to think of Americans as being, well, like the guy on the right: sinister and grasping. Well there's good news on the other side of the pond. Many Americans know from bitter experience of NAFTA how bad TTIP is likely to be and are mobilizing against it.

NAFTA's toxic legacy

Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen was on the panel of speakers last night, and this is what she had to say.

In America, they call it TAFTA to rhyme with NAFTA because NAFTA is so toxic in the American consciousness. It was a corporate giveaway.
To preserve the rights of investors, it prohibited barriers such as local-content and import-substitution rules, which require producers to ensure that specified inputs are produced domestically. - Foreign Affairs

The above statement is from a post that trumpets the "success" of NAFTA. Melinda continued, "The Clinton administration negotiated it behind closed doors. NAFTA promised to create hundreds of thousands of jobs per year, raise living standards, and reduce income inequality, but the opposite occurred. By 2004, one million jobs had been lost as a direct result of offshoring jobs and the depression that followed. Immigration was supposed to have been reduced but two million impoverished Mexicans entered the country, having lost their livelihoods when cheap corn flooded the market they usually served. This is where extreme investor rights and ISDS began.

"$430 million has been paid out to corporations already and there is $38 billion worth of cases pending. Like TTIP, health and safety is among the many government policies under attack.  MMT is a poisonous compound. When the Canadian government decided to ban it, US corporation Ethyl Corp. sued in an ISDS court and Canada had to revoke the ban and pay damages.

"When Metalclad, a US company, polluted the water at Guadalcázar with improperly dumped hazardous waste and authorities denied them the permits required to operate the dump, they sued the Mexican government in an ISDS court in Canada under NAFTA for loss of profit after being ordered to clean up."

The examples piled up till the stories of the roaring success of NAFTA touted by its supporters began to ring hollow. Each promise of jobs, growth, and benefits from investment is broken when the arbitration process begins, and it's always over loss of profit or expropriation by trying to force polluters to clean up or cease operations. If I didn't know better, I'd swear these so-called investors are basically trolls whose main business model is not to conduct business that causes pollution, but to provoke governments to try to stop them polluting so they can sue them for expropriation in an ISDS tribunal.

The impact of the new FTAs

Melinda added, "TTP is a trade agreement between the Pacific coast nations, Far Eastern countries, Australia, and New Zealand. 600 corporate advisers have full access to the documents and a say in the negotiations. The public, the press, and Congress are locked out. This is less about trade and more about control. TAFTA, or TTIP, as you call it, would permit US corporations to dominate global trade.

"TTIP is going after buy local policies. 23 US cities have already been targeted. TISA, the financial treaty, would turn our stock markets into a global casino. This is about financial leverage and all of this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems there are with these agreements.

"For TTIP, 75,000  corporations are involved, 50,000 US ones and 25,000 European ones. Boutique firms have set up in Washington to find more rights to strip us of as barriers to trade. The EU actually wants more fracking in the US.

"One thing we're fighting for at Public Citizen is to ensure that Congress does not give the White House a blank cheque to negotiate FTAs. Three quarters of the Democrat party and some of the Republicans are saying no to Fast Track, a policy that would permit this."

What barriers to trade?

Centrist journalist Ulrike Hermann stepped up next. "TTIP," she contends, "is about lobbyism. It's not about trade because trade between the US and the EU is booming at a rate of 1.8 billion per year. What tariffs exist are very low. EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht admits that, despite the hype, growth in trade could be as low as 0.5% in the EU and 0.4% in the US. When I challenged him about it in an interview, he went quiet, he had nothing to say. Nonetheless, he continues to promote it.

"If tariffs are not the problem, what are these barriers to trade they keep talking about? Well currency speculation is one of them. The value of currency dealing at the moment is €5.3 trillion between the US and the EU, and €18.4 trillion worldwide. As exchange rates fluctuate, they affect trade by driving up costs or making it cheaper to buy from foreign countries. The problem of inherent instability could be solved by eliminating speculation, but that would create a range of complications all by itself. 

"TTIP is a living agreement. There are two steps:

1) They will only agree on what is easy to agree on. 

For example, indicator lights on cars are red in the US and orange in the EU. Harmonizing that standard is harmless. However, chemicals are treated differently in the US and the EU. In the US, they are considered safe till proven harmful. In the EU, it's the opposite. 

2) They are aiming for regulatory cooperation. 

Under TTIP all new laws must be checked for possible impacts on trade. These would include increasing the minimum wage and consumer protection laws. When Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to rapidly phase out nuclear energy in Germany in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Swedish nuclear power company Vatenfall took the German government to court and won €3.7 billion in an ISDS court.

"For this reason, the German Minister for the Economy won't sign TTIP unless the ISDS provisions are removed. The US won't sign it if ISDS provisions are removed because it's in TPP. The US Chamber of Commerce will drop TTIP if the ISDS provisions are removed.

"Most Germans are opposed to TTIP, even the Right, but in their case it's on nationalistic grounds. That's why I don't understand why UKIP, which is supposed to be about UK sovereignty, doesn't oppose it."

"What do you expect? They're Libertarians!" I said.

Pressure works: how the internet helped to derail the MAI

Nick Dearden, director of WDM was next. "The Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which embedded the free flow of capital and ISDS, was derailed by a successful global campaign in 1997. It was actually the first such campaign to utilize the internet. The energy from that campaign is growing, organisations like Occupy and Jubilee 2000, along with a coalition of political and faith groups, are helping us to fight injustice and push back on the corporate agenda: the creation of a global government run by the IMF and big business.

"It was Germany that forced the recent consultation on ISDS. The EU Commission had deliberately made it very difficult and technical but they were absolutely swamped with responses. 40,000 submissions have already been made, though 20,000 were lost when the website crashed. As a result, the consultation has been extended by two weeks.

"A House of Lords report has ordered people to tone down the figures being used to promote TTIP because they keep getting debunked. They're losing the public argument. David Cameron is afraid."

No amount of lipstick they put on this pig is going to stop it going "Oink!"

"All of this is happening despite the secrecy because conscientious leakers are making documents available on Wikileaks. In the US, agribusiness is driving this. In the EU, it's the finance sector.

"We can fight this. We can tell people how this affects things they care about: the NHS, the environment, democracy, and our own wallets — payments to the corporations would come from taxpayers' funds. Even now, Ecuador, South Africa, and Indonesia are auditing, considering ending, or ripping up their bilateral agreements over ISDS.

"UKIP, despite their claims of standing up for British sovereignty, are not supporting us.

"Don't just oppose evil FTAs, work to create a fairer world via alliances with other groups."

Shout outs, etc.

I mentioned EDM 202 and when I explained that Glyn Moody had tipped me off, I saw some appreciative nods from the panel of speakers.

The unions have been slowly coming on board: UNITE was at first in favour of TTIP in the hope that it would bring in business. Now they've seen how dangerous it is, they're against it. All the unions in France, Spain, and Germany are against it. The TUC, which is an umbrella body, hopes to remove the harmful provisions and make it work, but overall, political opinion is shifting. This agreement must be stopped: once it's been signed it's nigh impossible to revoke.

Corporations have been saying they need a grass roots strategy to promote TTIP. What they actually do is a Dracula strategy: they don't move in sunlight.

TISA is so secret there's not much detail to mull over; all the more reason to be suspicious. FTAs are beginning to fail because Latin America and India keep fighting back.

Ian Murray, shadow trade and investment minister, won't support TTIP unless the NHS is protected, and wants more transparency. However, the Labour party would rather avoid being characterised as being anti-growth so will support it in principle.

TTIP's processes are as dangerous as its provisions so it may prove impossible to remedy. The leaked chapter on energy would reinforce dependency on fossil fuel.

We need to work to get the British press to report on this. Commenting, writing to them, and writing for them to inform them might help. Actually, the Financial Times is reporting it quite well. Email the BBC and other media outlets to ask them to report on it.

I mentioned the IPR chapter, which John Hilary said he's touched on in his booklet, TTIP: A charter for deregulation, an attack on jobs, an end to democracy. There he says it's ACTA risen from the dead.

An EU impact assessment states that one million jobs will be lost to TTIP. Unemployment will rise due to offshoring jobs.

NHS standards and quality may fall if obliged to take on services provided by companies using underqualified, low-paid staff.

Nick Dearden is promoting the Alternative Trade Mandate, a fair trade model for trade agreements. A brief look shows a mostly public sector bias but it's certainly worth discussing.

There's a rally on Saturday 12th July in Manchester in Market St. opposite Barclays at 12pm. I'll be there. Apparently, there's a pro-TTIP roadshow on in Liverpool on Thursday 17th of July, 2014 08:30 - 10:30. There's another in Edinburgh in September. Give 'em hell!

A demonstration against austerity is to be held on 6th September. Watch out for announcements.

My opinion

I am not a socialist. I believe we should only provide taxpayers' money to people who need it because they're unable to work, can't find work for the moment, or aren't earning enough to cover their living expenses. Finding time for those creative or other projects you'd do if you didn't have to have a job and actually work — as I do — is your problem. The market can be cruel indeed but it really is the best arbiter of whether you are a talented prodigy or not. For that reason, I say that your business must stand or fall on its own merits. TTIP is an extortioners' charter that basically ring-fences the right to troll governments and shake them down for cash. The only investment is in baiting the trap for the unsuspecting government by promising to employ their citizens.
  1. Provoke them
  2. Get called to account
  3. Sue in an ISDS tribunal 
  4. Profit!
The point is, I believe the individual must be free to act, untrammelled by interference from the state or other bodies, as long as he or she does no harm to others. State control would tax you to pay for all the things whether you use them or not. Corporate control would make you pay for all the things you use (in theory - *cough*IPR*coughcough*). It sounds appealing, doesn't it? Why pay for what you don't use? But if they can lock out competition via IPR, etc., your only choice is to take it or leave it while they jack up prices because they can. That's why I advocate for middle-out economics. Capitalism would actually be sustainable if properly managed. 

Under TTIP, it would run riot and ultimately implode, leaving a desolate, polluted environment and desperate poverty behind. If you think austerity is bad now, wait till TTIP kicks in and doubles down on it. Join the coalition of protesters and push back against this abomination!

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