This Friday 17th October I was due to meet Theresa Villiers at our rather brilliant monthly Any Questions-style public meeting in Friern Barnet Community Library.
However, she has pulled out, depriving me of the opportunity of challenging her directly – but prompting me to set down this rebuttal.*
This is my response to Ms Villiers’ letter on TTIP – the “free trade” agreement being negotiated between the United States and the EU mostly behind closed doors and shrouded in a thick fog of media silence.
Her letter opens with the very rosy claims being made by its advocates: the deal is predicted to bring £10billion to the UK economy annually, she says.
The dubious benefits of free trade agreements
Ms Villiers does not say where she gets her figures from. An impact assessment for TTIP was commissioned from the Centre or Economic Policy Research. Their most optimistic guess was that it would lead to EU economic output rising by 0.5% by 2027. But this claim has already been described as “vastly overblown”, and the actual gains described as “trivial” by other experts.**
We benefit from free trade deals having form! Former President Clinton had this to say about one of them while giving evidence to the US government in 2010: “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” said Clinton to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”
The result of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) an agreement much more akin to TTIP, which has been in place for fully 20 years is assessed as resulting in detriment despite very positive outcomes being predicted for it: “the reality for much of the US public: wages have fallen, the cost of food has risen […] even though consumer-goods prices have dropped, overall US workers are worse off than they were before NAFTA came into force. People have lost out in non-monetary ways…”
Overall, free trade agreements are observed by experts to disadvantage the weaker party – the ordinary people. “The majority of free trade agreements fail to include enforceable provisions to protect workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment. The lack of standards has led to a “race to the bottom,” where transnational corporations move from country to country in search of the cheapest labor and least imposing domestic regulations.”
No threat to regulation?
Ms Villiers denies concerns that this agreement would “weaken environmental regulation, privatise the NHS, or allow private companies to overturn the laws made by democratically elected governments” because Ministers have been “clear that there is nothing” in there that would do that.
Oh dear. The only thing that can be said for this sweeping dismissal is that it’s convenient.
What does Ms Villiers imagine is meant in the mandate given to the EU negotiators of “reaching an ambitious level of regulatory compatibility for goods and services, including through mutual recognition, harmonisation and through enhanced cooperation between regulators”?
Does she imagine that harmonisation will this time, uniquely in history, reverse the iron laws of these agreements and turn into a race to the top? Half of the united states have anti-trades union legislation! If you aren’t sure what the implications of this are – read my post about the description of American society called the Unwinding. Anything that puts at risk our fundamental human rights to free association has to be wrong, and stopped.
Overturning government-made laws is a reference to the ISDS – the secret, international arbitration court where companies can sue governments that pass laws damaging the corporate’s current and future profits.
This option is buried in most bi-lateral investment agreements, so we have seen what they can produce. This Independent article “US firms could make billions from UK via secret tribunals” lists of a few cases where giant multi-nationals have taken advantage of this clause: Veolia is suing Egypt for implementing a minimum wage; Occidental Petroleum against Ecuador for limiting its exploration rights; on and on.
Weasel worded caveats in a “mandate to negotiators” are hardly the bulwark you want against this powerful threat to democracy!
Here we enter looking-glass land. Ms Villiers ends her letter by stating that “the government continues to emphasise the importance of transparency with the European Commission…”
The secrecy that has surrounds this momentous agreement is the strongest evidence of its danger. The Mandate to the negotiators was only released this week as a result of the huge pressure brought on MEPs (the elected element of the European government) by outraged citizens. Have a look – it’s stamped “declassified” on every page.
When concerned European citizens submitted the forms to register a European Citizens’ Initiative calling on Europe to scrap the agreement process, it was rejected. “From a citizen’s perspective this looks very much like a despotic act alienating people throughout Europe,” said the contact person.
Climbing to the top of these tangled trees we can look out and see the neoliberal wood in which this agreement sits. That ideology’s insistence that government is bad and must be minimised, that private enterprise is always good, and that the market is best unfettered is the fancy inverted pyramid of piffle used by corporates to veil their naked power grabs and profit seeking.
That’s why it ignores all contrary evidence and all appeals to compassion. It is a brutal, predatory capitalist fundamentalism.
You can sign the self-organised citizens initiative being put together in defiance of the Commission’s rejection here.
* We are no longer going to have a Chipping Barnet hustings there that night. Though Labour’s Amy Trevethan and I are still scheduled to show up.
** My source for this is John Hilary’s The TTIP A charter for deregulation, an attack on job, an end to democracy published by Rosa Luxembourg Press in February 2014