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Leaked treaty texts confirm it: TTIP is a trade deal that threatens democracy

11 May 2016 Editorial
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The secret draft texts of the proposed US-EU 'free trade' agreement TTIP released by Greenpeace Netherlands on May 2 confirm what critics have maintained from the outset. TTIP is a trade deal that threatens democracy.

The treaty negotiations were never centered on reducing tariffs between the US and the European Union, which are at historic lows. Like the finalized but as yet unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement CETA, TTIP's principal objective is to further expand the already considerable power of transnational corporations by restricting the regulatory power of governments and locking the system into place to prevent new regulatory initiatives.

The leaked chapters (13 out of a projected 24) show how TTIP would undermine the capacity of governments at every level to adopt and enforce laws and regulations to defend worker and consumer health and safety and the environment against corporate depredation.

The blunt instrument for lowering standards and ensuring they remain low is the chapter on regulatory harmonization (what the EU negotiators call 'Regulatory Cooperation' and the US 'Regulatory Coherence, Transparency, and Other Good Regulatory Practices'). Any and all regulatory proposals must be evaluated for their impact on trade and investment, must conform to a 'least burdensome' requirement (in which no regulation is the benchmark) and must be subject to a cost/benefit analysis. Governments are required to signal in advance any proposed regulations they intend to adopt and must guarantee interested 'natural and legal persons' (read: corporations) input into the drafting and review process. Corporations as legal persons on either side can 'petition' for the amendment or repeal of any regulation they find objectionable. The precautionary principle established in EU law is nowhere mentioned in the EU draft text, which proposes instead the 'mutual recognition of equivalence of regulatory acts" - a preemptive surrender of Europe's generally higher standards.

An institutional role for transnational corporations is developed further in the chapter on Technical Barriers to Trade, the WTO-based mechanism under which corporations have challenged regulations concerning, for example, plain-packaging requirements for tobacco products, country of origin labelling, chemical rinses on poultry meat and import restrictions on genetically modified crops. The US draft stipulates that "Each Party shall allow persons of the other Party to participate in the development of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures" and that "Each Party shall permit persons of the other Party to participate in the development of these measures on terms no less favorable than those it accords to its own persons." Transnational corporate committees replace democratic process. The 'right to regulate' evoked in the EU draft investment chapter published last year is meaningless in the light of provisions which completely eviscerate democratic decision-making.

What else do the leaked texts tell us? The US is seeking to crack open the potential EU market for 'products of modern agricultural technology', i.e. genetically modified crops. The draft chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures creates a web of 'science-based' requirements which would make it even more difficult for the EU to maintain its restrictions on GM imports and production. The EU would be required to enroll in the US-driven International Initiative on Low Level Presence, a program designed to eliminate restrictions on the import of non-GM foods containing the traces of GM contamination which have become ubiquitous with the expansion of GM agriculture. The 'international initiative' is GM colonization by stealth.

The texts contain much more that is toxic to democracy and the labour movement, and we haven't even seen the full list of services annexes or the chapters on intellectual property or financial services, all of them instruments for enhancing corporate power. The leaks expose the utter hypocrisy of governments on both sides trying to sell TTIP as an agreement which will respect the regulatory role of the state and guarantee a high level of worker and consumer safety and environmental protection.

On investment, the heart of the treaty, the EU's proposal for an international investment 'court' to handle investor lawsuits is a cosmetic rebranding of the closed tribunals which the US continues to press for in investor-to-state dispute settlement cases (ISDS). Both would empower international investors to challenge laws, regulations, even administrative and court decisions which they find objectionable.
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Opposition to TTIP continues to grow. On May 7, over 40,000 people demanded 'Stop TTIP' in Rome in a demonstration organized by the Italian national trade union center CGIL, the CGIL foodworkers union FLAI and civil society groups

CETA contains ISDS and expanded investor 'rights' in their most toxic form, which makes it a potential TTIP proxy. Virtually all US-based transnational corporations have subsidiaries in Canada which can make use of CETA provisions, including ISDS, to attack EU regulation. The corporate offensive can spread more widely through the 'most favoured nation' mechanism. This would enable corporations and their subsidiaries in other countries with similarly comprehensive trade and investment treaties with the EU to claim the same investor 'rights' established in CETA. TTIP/CETA is a package deal. Unions together with civil society organizations will have to build on the leaks to maintain the momentum of protest in order to defeat both.