October’s TTIP Column: It’s a Secret

I guess because I was writing so much about TTIP that month, I forgot to post up my EN4 and EN5 column on the subject. But for the sake of completeness here it is.

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In my last column I told you I would be sitting alongside Theresa Villiers on a hustings with the Labour candidate at our community library. But the week before the meeting the Secretary of State pulled out. Since then speculation has blossomed prettily around me over why this might have been. I know that not everyone likes to sit next to me – but I promise you I had intended to dab generous amounts of eau de cologne behind my ears.

Someone opined that the full, scary implications of putting in an appearance at this time may have at last come fully into the MP’s focus. She may have suddenly realised the context – a tainted council with a rogue mayor in the week a report exposing the extent of the council’s governance crisis was officially unveiled.

“Look,” her adviser may have advised. “This is not your garden-variety library visit where all you need to do is smile and tower elegantly over toddlers in a ball-pond and orange squash-sipping literary volunteers.

You’ll be asked to condemn the council’s incompetence. People will wonder whether you approve of scapegoating a council officer. Someone might even want to know whether you’ve heard what your council’s been up to at all?”

It’s hard to blame her, said my friendly speculator, for preferring to risk the Real IRA in Northern Ireland over facing us in the library.

But I think she was avoiding my challenge to her position on TTIP. On what? TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A “free trade” agreement being negotiated between the US and the EU behind closed doors in a thick fog of media silence.

My colleague Phil Fletcher wrote to our MP outlining our concerns. In her reply she reassured us:

“Ministers have been clear that there is nothing in this proposed agreement that would weaken environmental regulation, lead to the privatisation of the NHS or allow private companies to overturn the laws made by democratically elected governments.”

Lovely. Did we sigh with relief thinking, oh good! Ministers have this in hand we can go back to our juice and Plasticine. Did we? Guess!

We broke off from playing with our Wii and looked into the inglorious history of free trade agreements. We found Bill Clinton, who signed one with Haiti, is haunted by the guilt. He said this to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“It may have helped the farmers in Arkansas… But 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.”

Many bilateral investment agreements have been signed since the WTO free trade round foundered on the rocks of open diplomacy. These are negotiated in private, and have led to many multinationals dragging governments to arbitration for taking measures that minimise their profits. Veolia is suing Egypt (for US$50m) for implementing a higher minimum wage; Occidental Petroleum successfully sued Ecuador for stripping it of its oil exploration rights; and –you’ll love this!– Poland and Slovakia were both sued by private health and insurance providers when they attempted to reverse some of the privatisations of their healthcare systems.

Oh dear, Theresa. What to do with your ministers’ assurances? TTIP’s all being negotiated in secret. I’ll believe the evidence. What will you believe?

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