So much at risk, so little information - Talks on transatlantic trade deal

ON Saturday hundreds of thousands of people marched in Berlin to protest against a planned trade deal between Europe and the United States which was described by its opponents as being dangerously anti-democratic. 

So much at risk, so little information - Talks on transatlantic trade deal

Demonstrators warned that a deal will lower food safety, workers protections and environmental standards. It would, they say, also facilitate privatisation of the public services generations of Europeans have built up and regard as immutably public.

John Hilary, executive director of campaign group War on Want described a proposed deal proposed as: “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”

Though the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will have at least as much impact here as it will in Germany the subject has hardly been aired, much less discussed by our parliament. Not so much as a dicky bird. It is pretty safe to suggest too that TTIP does not feature in any party’s election manifesto — yet — but whether this reflects a growing democratic deficit in European Union affairs, our Government’s ultimate powerlessness on issues of this great scale, or indifference. is irrelevant. Just one of the charges made by opponents of TTIP is enough to make us sit up and take notice — and determined action. They suggest, among many other worrying accusations, that one of the objectives is to open up European public health, education and water services to US companies. Could this carpet-baggers’ mandate be behind Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s autocratic and unacceptable refusal to hold a referendum on copperfastening Irish Water in public ownership? All of a sudden such a vote seems not only appropriate but essential. The question must be made an election issue and we must have our say on our water services. Tragically, Government assurances are no longer sufficent and do not win the argument.

Another anti-democratic threat posed by TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if policies cause a loss of profits. Essentially, the boards of — say — Apple or Microsoft or one of the vulture funds that snapped up post-bust Irish property would be in a position to dictate social policy here. How else could it be described if the introduction of — say, again — worker protections, extended paid paternity leave, higher taxes, tighter environmental controls or stricter rules around the food we eat — or even cigarette packaging — can provoke litigation demanding compensation from taxpayers?

Advocates of TTIP argue it will create jobs but the EU admits TTIP will probably cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, where labour rights are weaker. It has even advised EU members to draw on European support funds to compensate for the expected unemployment. The secrecy around these negotiations has contributed to the fears that led to the Berlin protests. The recent record of big business, especially banking, can only provoke suspicion too. Not only does Paddy want to know what’s going on in the TTIP talks he wants to know if his best interests are being protected. We either find out, and react accordingly, or legitimise comedian Oliver Callan’s stinging barb: “Back to sleep Ireland.”

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