“TTIP has failed, but nobody wants to admit it.” With those words one of the biggest advocates of the US-EU trade deal known as TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership) appears to have signed its death warrant this week.
Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was joined two days later by fellow social-democrat Matthias Fekl, France’s trade minister, who went further, saying “France is demanding the pure, simple and definitive halt of these negotiations."
It seems that the anti-TTIP movement is close to winning its big prize – the death of a ‘trade’ deal which had more to do with extending the power of big corporations than exchanging goods. For a trade deal which had barely been heard of by most European politicians two and a half years ago, that’s quite a feat.
But what lies behind this apparent conversion of leading German and French social democrats? Elections in France and Germany are approaching in 2017. The wholesale conversion of the European centre-left to the big business ‘free market’ agenda in the 1990s, means there often seems to be little difference between conservatives and social democrats. Gabriel and Fekl are both in election mode already, but their new-found opposition to TTIP is purely tactical.
They have calculated that a tactical retreat on TTIP might just be enough to save TTIP’s sister agreements, namely the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA), a deal between Canada and the EU, and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) a massive, super-privatisation deal covering everything from finance to education.
In other words, TTIP has been sacrificed to save the wider agenda of which TTIP was only one part. Add to that the free market fantasies of our own trade minister Liam Fox, and campaigners should enjoy a celebratory drink, but not put their placards away yet.
Our next target must be CETA – a deal which has received far less attention than TTIP, largely because Canada seems like a pleasant enough country which doesn’t threaten European standards. But the whole point of these agreements is to change our society, and CETA is just as dangerous in this regard as TTIP.
CETA would allow Canadian multinationals to sue European governments in special courts for imposing ‘unfair’ regulations on them – as well as the thousands of US multinationals with a base in Canada. Like TTIP, it’s all about deregulation, threatening everything from public services to financial control. The European Parliament will likely vote on this deal before next Spring, and governments including our own want to implement it immediately afterwards, rather than wait for a vote in Westminster.
Neither is Brexit going to save us. Boris Johnson is on record as saying he thinks CETA is the very model of a good trade deal.
Then there’s TISA – a deal between 50 countries which aims at the liberalisation of ‘services’. Services, in trade parlance, is anything you can’t drop on your foot – finance and insurance, telecommunications, transport, energy services, education and healthcare. That is what Britain specialises in, we are told, and therefore our government is bound to opt-in to TISA as soon as we exit the EU.
Our new briefing spells out what TISA could mean in practice. Perhaps most worrying is the so-called ‘ratchet’ clause, which makes the privatisation of services effectively irreversible, because it forces countries to ensure market access for foreign companies in perpetuity. That could easily apply to the railways, the post office or privatised sections of the NHS.
We know, from leaks, that TISA is heavily backed by City of London financial corporations – and for good reason. TISA will also lock-in financial sector deregulation – the same framework that caused the 2008 economic crash. TISA could also make it more difficult to limit speculation in the market, to break up banks or to regulate risky financial products
We also know that some countries are pushing clauses in TISA which would prevent signatories introducing laws to favour renewable energy over fossil fuels. Others are pushing to allow high tech companies to transfer data across borders at will. This would allow companies like Google and Facebook to move personal information to the US where data protection is more lax.
Meanwhile, some categories of migrant worker may end up being “independent service suppliers” and will consequently not enjoy the right to things like the minimum wage or be allowed to join a trade union, essentially becoming a form of modern indentured labour.
We gain little if the end of TTIP allows such awful deals to make it to the statute book. If social democrats want to reconnect with their base, they need to completely rethink the purpose of trade, as other countries are doing. India and Tanzania have just backed out of trade deals and negotiations with the EU, following the lead of many Latin American countries over the last decade.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies