Lack of transparency threatens TTIP’s success

Supporters of a major free trade deal aimed at boosting trade in goods and services between the US and EU find themselves on the defensive following another big leak of secret documents.

Lack of transparency threatens TTIP’s success

For the past three years, negotiators have been working to put together the ambitious Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership — TTIP .

Its backers, ranging from US President Barack Obama to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have argued that its passage would boost economies on either side of the Atlantic by around $100bn.

Critics, such as left-leaning NGOs, have been warning that the agreement will result in the rolling back of citizens’ rights to the benefit of corporate fat cats and their legal advisers.

Greenpeace has managed to get its hands on a cache of secret documents which provide an insight into how the talks have been progressing.

While the revelations may not have quite the same sex appeal as the Panama Papers, the release of which shone arc lights into the shadowy world of global tax evasion and avoidance, they have certainly set the cat among a flock of fat pigeons.

One strong critic of the deal, John Hilary of Waronwant.org maintains that the documents released show that “US corporations would be granted unprecedented access” in the area of public health and safety regulation, adding that US investors could have the right to sue for loss of profit in the event of new regulations being passed into law.

Defenders of EU food safety standards and opponents of GM foods are predictably up in arms.

Agriculture producer groups such as the IFA are opposed to any dilution in standards.

Irish farmers are also seeking to water down a proposed trade between the EU and the ‘Mercosur’ group of Latin American countries, which include the leading beef exporting states Brazil and Argentina.

The newly elected IFA president, Joe Healy, has suggested that Ireland has secured an exemption in the area of beef.

Merkel has, in recent days, said that “we will do everything possible to negotiate the TTIP by the end of the year”.

However, many believe that if the deal is not clinched before Obama leaves the White House, it could be headed for the bin.

France President François Hollande has joined with germany’s vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, to express scepticism.

Hollande, in particular, is under pressure from his country’s famously militant farmers and from a voter base which is sceptical about free trade. The anti-trade National Front is also ready to pounce.

Polling by the Bertelsmann foundation has revealed a fall-off in support for the deal among German voters.

In the US, the Democratic frontrunner and one-time supporter of TTIP, Hillary Clinton, appears to have reversed course under pressure from her resurgent rival, Bernie Sanders.

So what has gone wrong? An obsession with secrecy for a start.

The talks have been kept under wraps with suspicions about negotiator intern and backstairs influence by big business being fanned.

There are concerns that corporations could be allowed under the proposed deal to use international courts of arbitration to undermine cherished consumer rights.

According to critics, the oil giant Chevron has lobbied to secure the right for investors to challenge bans on activities within the EU such as fracking.

Chevron is currently suing the government of Ecuador for almost $9.5bn in damages at a commercial court in The Hague over its decision to award that amount to indigenous peoples allegedly affected by the illegal deposit of gallons of toxic sludge into Amazonian rivers.

Other tribunal awards are credited with forcing Hamburg to relax clean water rules while forcing the New Zealand government to suspend the introduction of strict new rules on cigarette labelling.

There are fears that big business and lobbyist allies could influence EU laws operating through a series of technical working groups and committees. The idea that barriers to the advance of GM foods could be lowered has had particular resonance.

The talk is of a race to the bottom when it comes to standards generally.

There is another side to this story, however.

Supporters of the deal have been rather slow to make their case, or at least, inept at securing media exposure.

The truth is that manufacturers and service firms stand to benefit from a lowering of barriers, with Ireland, in particular, well placed.

Former enterprise minister Richard Bruton has been a vocal proponent yet his views have been drowned out by powerful opposition from farmer and environmental groups.

One individual to make a strong case for the treaty has been the US commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker, the heir to a $3bn fortune.

In an interview with the German publication Spiegel Online, she pointed out that of around 50m SMEs in the US and the EU, barely 250,000 are currently trading across the Atlantic ocean. TTIP , if concluded, “presents a chance to deal with the rules and regulations standing in the way of doing business together”, said Pritzker.

Regulatory duplication is certainly hobbling the efforts of job-creating and innovative SMEs.

Yet sadly, the lack of transparency around the talks has merely added to the sense that the big corporate battalions have captured the process and are set to colonise it for their own benefit — and at our expense.

We have been there before, in the way globalisation has served, in the main, the interests of top executives rather than ordinary workers, at least in the West, and the manner in which the euro project was captured by the finance sector, with such catastrophic consequences.

The TTIP talks could yet be turned around, but only in an environment of far greater transparency.

The Obama administration, and Europe’s embattled leaders and officials, have gone along with a process which, while seeking to promote free trade, has something whiffy about it.

The time has come to open the windows up so as to expel the stale, rancid air from a series of negotiations which otherwise risk going nowhere very fast.

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