SIX months ago, few people in this country had heard of the
Trans-atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal that is
being quietly negotiated between the EU and the United States. Now,
not a week goes by without the world's biggest trade deal being
debated in the press.
Opposition to the agreement has grown rapidly during the year.
Echoing the trade-justice movement of 15 years ago, a diverse array
of trade unions and groups campaigning about social justice, the
environment, poverty, and consumer rights have come together to
mobilise people against the TTIP deal, and the vast new powers it
would give to big business over people's lives in the UK and
The part of the deal causing the most controversy, as outlined
by Nick Dearden, director of the World Development Movement
(Comment, 28 March), is a proposal to allow big companies to sue
governments over decisions that they believe might reduce their
profits. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system poses
a threat to democracy by limiting the ability of governments to
make decisions in the interests of the people whom they
This kind of "corporate court" already exists as part of other
trade deals, and multinational companies have not been shy about
using it. Perhaps most famously, the tobacco company Philip Morris
is suing Australia for introducing plain cigarette packaging, and
Uruguay for printing a health warning on packets.
Last month, Philip Morris threatened the UK Government with a
lawsuit if it goes ahead with its plans to bring in plain cigarette
packets here. If the TTIP deal is agreed, such threats will be much
easier to carry out.
CONCERNS in the UK over the proposed corporate courts have centred
on the implications for the NHS. The trade union Unite has argued
forcefully that attempts by a future UK government to reverse the
privatisation measures already introduced to the NHS in England and
Wales - as is Labour Party policy - could trigger legal action by
A survey commissioned by Unite in August in marginal
Conservative-held constituencies found that 68 per cent of the
voters questioned wanted the NHS to be excluded from the TTIP deal.
But the health minister Earl Howe insisted this month that
healthcare must stay in the deal, arguing that to exclude it would
be against the interests of pharmaceutical companies.
The TTIP deal could also open other public services, including
education, to greater involvement by private companies; and any
plans to take already privatised services such as the railways and
energy back into public hands could lead to legal challenges
costing billions of pounds of public money.
THE TTIP deal also threatens regulation that has been built up
over decades to protect people and the environment. The stated
object is to "harmonise" standards between the US and Europe - but,
in practice, this is likely to mean lowering standards here to
match the more basic US levels. US agribusiness companies are
pushing hard, for instance, for the EU to drop its bans on chicken
washed in chlorine, and beef and pork treated with hormones.
In education, the National Union of Teachers fears that the TTIP
deal could be used to open up state education in the UK to the
involvement of US companies, and that the ongoing process of
"harmonising" standards might, in future, mean that, for example,
those companies could identify UK rules to promote high standards
in the training of teachers as "trade barriers". On the
environment, Friends of the Earth argues that the deal would
undermine the ability of governments to regulate fracking.
The campaign Stop AIDS, which has seen the price of
anti-retrovirals for HIV falling from more than $10,000 per person
per year to less than $100, believes that a TTIP deal could
increase restrictions on the manufacture and sale of cheap,
SINCE the TTIP is being seen as the "granddaddy" of all future
trade deals, poorer countries would soon experience the greatly
increased powers that it seeks to give to big business.
Opposition spans the Atlantic. Trade unions and Democrat members
of Congress in the US have withheld the fast-track negotiating
authority that President Obama needs in order to push the deal
German campaigners forced the European Commission to hold a
consultation on the inclusion of ISDS corporate courts in the deal.
More than 150,000 people from across the EU responded to the
consultation process - a record number. One third of them were from
the UK. A transatlantic day of action is being planned for 11
European Commission negotiators are discussing the TTIP in
secret: not even MEPs have been allowed to see the text of the
agreement. The TTIP's proponents are on the defensive, none the
less, clearly taken aback by the strength of feeling against
Both the British Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord
Livingston, and the EU Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, have
said that they are mystified by the opposition, blaming
But the momentum against TTIP is building, in Europe and the US.
This is a campaign that we can win.
Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development
Movement (www.wdm.org.uk). For information about the 11 October day
of action, visit www.nottip.org.uk.