RECENT high-profile leaks have drawn attention to the shroud of secrecy and lack of democratic accountability that surrounds negotiations between the European Commission and the US government on the so-called transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).
For a treaty that could have drastic and far-reaching consequences for this country, most Irish citizens have been kept entirely in the dark about what is at stake.
The Fine Gael-led Government is full square behind TTIP regardless of the consequences for the Ireland.
The Government and Fine Gael MEPs are failing to stand up for Ireland’s interests in the ongoing EU-US trade talks, simply proclaiming it “is good for Ireland”.
This is despite the fact that it hasn’t even been fully negotiated and that most of its component parts have been kept secret by the European Commission.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said that those of us who oppose TTIP are doing so because “the EU is proposing it”, but this argument is baseless.
Those who have expressed concern about the direction of TTIP include groups normally quick to support EU initiatives, such as farming organisations, SME representative bodies, almost all European trade unions, and hundreds of advocacy associations.
In Ireland, organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, as well as several environmental and food- producing representatives, have carried out excellent research that shows we need to be vigilant.
Not so the Irish Government. They have placed themselves in the role of chief cheerleaders for the commission. Their position is wholehearted support for whatever is included regardless of the consequences to the Irish economy.
The truth is that TTIP could have major negative consequences for Irish agriculture, workers’ rights, food safety, and the environment in Ireland, but the Irish Government is not protecting the interests of Ireland or our citizens.
Under TTIP, Irish farmers will be severely disadvantaged through the expected vast increases to the quota for US meat imports into Europe. This will put Irish family farmers into direct competition with huge industrial farms in the United States.
These US competitors do not have to maintain the same high standards of regulation as Irish farmers. Neither will American meat producers have to meet the same animal health and environmental standards that apply in Ireland.
The lower production costs will be a severe disadvantage to Irish farmers. According to the Government-commissioned ‘Copenhagen Economics Report’ Ireland’s beef sector could contract by up to €45 million as a result of TTIP. But it may indeed be much worse than that because TTIP aims to remove what its supporters claim are “unnecessary barriers” to trade.
To get an idea what this means, one only has to look at how a proposed EU regulation to ban 31 pesticides containing dangerous chemicals linked to testicular cancer and infertility, were scrapped because of pressure by the US during the TTIP negotiations.
EU regulations regarding GMOs and the use of chemicals in food production are vastly different between than those in the US, but under TTIP, practices regarded as a health risk by Irish food producers and consumers may come into use here.
The US and EU also have vastly divergent standards of rights for workers. For instance, EU workers are entitled to 25 days annual leave but in the US there are no statutory requirements. Any erosion of workers’ rights legislation will result in downward pressure on wages and conditions in Ireland.
Meanwhile, TTIP seeks to “liberalise” all sectors of the economy and multinational corporations make no secret of their desire to use it as a vehicle to get control of water, health, education, and postal services.
This will lead inevitably to the outsourcing and privatisation of vital public utilities in Ireland and, it is worth remembering, TTIP prevents any re-nationalisation of services, once privatised.
TTIP seeks to limit the power of governments to regulate for sustainable environmental practices. This would mean legislative efforts to ban fracking and other environmentally dangerous practises will be undermined. Fundamentally, TTIP weakens Irish democracy. For instance, the proposal for an Investor Court would allow wealthy multinational corporations to sue the Government for implementing measures that impact on potential profits. This would leave the Irish State open to previously unimagined liabilities.
Of course, this has enormous implications for the Irish Constitution and I have recently received legal opinion from an eminent senior counsel confirming that if the EU Commission proceeds with this proposal, it will require a referendum in Ireland.
The implications of the inclusion in TTIP of an ‘Investor Court’, can be seen in threats by French corporation Veolia to sue the Egyptian city of Alexandria because Egypt proposed to increase the minimum wage.
Veolia demanded compensation if costs increased and, as a result, the Government of Egypt abandoned its proposal.
The primary job of any Irish Government when dealing with the EU, must be to protect the interests of Ireland and its citizens. Instead, the Fine Gael-led government has seen its role as a mere PR agent for the European Commission.
The Government has selectively used reports such as that produced by Copenhagen Economics to set out a best-case scenario even though it clearly states that potential gains from TTIP will disproportionately benefit foreign multinationals often at the expense of Irish-owned firms.
The exports of six out of the eight sectors, where all exports are produced by Irish firms, are expected to fall as a result of TTIP. This is according to the Irish Government’s own commissioned report.
Going by recent statements from Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, it is clear that his party wants the final TTIP agreement to include a “financial services chapter”.
The financial services industry is eager for this to happen because — and they are clearly on the record on this — they see TTIP as an opportunity to limit and reverse regulatory constraints on their activities. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing in Ireland, then where could it?
Sinn Féin opposes TTIP under its current mandate and will challenge any efforts that attempt to reduce the standards we have come to expect on food, the environment, the rights of workers and of consumers. The incoming Irish Government should do the same.
Matt Carthy is Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands/North West.
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