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OPINION: If we knew what was in the TTIP deal, would we vote for it?

IT’S not very often that a deal is proposed that has bi-partisan support in both the for and against camps. The controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP deal, is something with bi-partisan support on the European Parliament and in the US Senate. Indeed, in the USA, it has Republican Party members agreeing with Democrat President Obama, for perhaps the first time in about three years. But it also has a bi-partisan opposition. In Europe, MEP’s from a variety of left and right leaning parties deliberately disrupted and eventually cancelled a vote on the topic last week. In the USA, Democrats are lining up to criticise Obama’s proposed deal, and others like it, and have so far managed to hinder its progress through the US democratic system. But while the deal has caused a wide variety of political confusion and a big argument in activist circles, its questionable how much the general public is aware of the deal, or what is proposed within it. That awareness might be by design. Negotiations have been held in secret, with US Senators having previously complained that secrecy control means they have to be supervised when reading passages of the bill. Although bits and pieces throughout its debating period have been leaked by WikiLeaks, and the mainstream media has recently upped articles on it, the sense is that the public is not entirely aware of what is being discussed.

In many cases, the noises surrounding TTIP have preceded the content of the actual deal, and what is being discussed. So what is the TTIP deal aiming to achieve, and what is in it that has people riled? In recent years, the United States has been attempting to bring the world’s trade agreements to its playing fields. This has been spotted with a similar deal involving China and Japan known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which is the deal that has been attracting major attention in the US. A similar deal already discussed and signed covers South and Central America, while another deal, known as TISA, is also in negotiation to rubber-stamp all these individual deals into a global framework. The publicly spouted theory by proponents is that these deals are intended to loosen trading regulations for corporations and big businesses in a variety of global sectors. The thinking behind is an increase in jobs, economic boosts, and a GDP increase. But critics are not entirely buying that line, and there’s a lot of them. Nearly three million people across the EU have signed a petition trying to block the deal, while noted politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are opposed. Indeed, behind last week’s delay to the EU votes were MEP’s from UKIP, while politicians from left-wing European parties have also been involved in the disruption process.

The biggest red-flag for those opposed is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, or ISDS. This clause is intended to allow investors and businesses to file lawsuits against countries if they feel legislation by sovereign states has impacted their profits, but goes further, with some critics claiming this rendition of ISDS means the state has to stomach the costs regardless, and corporate lawyers in the pay-pocket of big companies can make the rulings.

Trade agreements elsewhere means companies can sue countries anyway. The famous example is that of Phillip Morris International, who own the Marlboro tobacco brand, sued Australia in 2011 in response to Australia’s move to put all cigarettes in plain packaging. A court ruled Australia won and PMI had to be pay costs, but the company is carrying on, with the corporation currently in a legal battle with the government of Uruguay after they tried to put health warnings on packets for the first time.

The Uruguay case is widely seen as a test case for ISDS, with the tobacco industry’s lawsuit coming through a trade deal between Switzerland – where PMI are based – and Uruguay that includes such a clause. As pointed out by satirist John Oliver back in February, a similar threat of action has also been used to dissuade the small African nation of Togo from putting warnings on cigarette packets altogether.

Last year, the British government insisted ISDS was necessary to convince foreign investors to invest in Britain. Exactly who they’re trying to convince with such a statement remains a mystery, and not one we seem any nearer to knowing. The only thing that remains known is David Cameron remains for it, although as Labour were as well ahead of the election, there wasn’t really much choice from the two main parties on it. But while that’s a problem, it’s not the only one. The multiple layers of secrecy are extremely disconcerting, and this has allowed speculation to take over the debate. But leaked pages of the TPP deal sourced and uploaded by WikiLeaks revealed most of the discussions did not involve trade, even though this is advertised as the key component of the entire thing.

Another big red flag is that there is a lot of regulation weakening involved. Proponents have denied this, and it could be useful if such a deal was designed to help bring the USA up to stronger regulations on things like food safety, financial regulation and the environment. The fear however is the reverse, and that instead, regulation is being weakened. The particular fear is environmental regulation, with leaked pages suggesting it will be left weaker by these deals.

All of which begs the question – why is the world’s general public being shut out?

These deals affect everybody on Earth, and include changes to global legislation that will affect everything from environmental regulation to food safety, the availability of public health, financial regulations and the question of the relationship between big multi-nationals and sovereign nations. Yet all of the negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors, and were it not for leaking data through WikiLeaks or activist groups like 38Degrees, the chances are we might not have known anything at all. It’s one thing to ask MEP’s, Senators, Representatives, MP’s, everyone for their input into the deal to voice the views of the people, but why is it that the political class – including those with corporate sponsors and lobbyists – are calling the shots? A deal with such global ramifications for the next decades should be given more public input, more public exposure, and a chance for people across the planet to be given a greater say in its direction. After all, the wrong deal leaves the public exposed to the ramifications. In one respect, it is perhaps a sign of the times that people do not trust politicians with what’s going on that a greater interest has been taking in this than most of the other activities undertaken by the European Parliament. But a lot has to be done to bring increasingly irritated people on side, otherwise the deal will either be derailed or go through in a botched format.

What Drives Governments to Keep TISA, TPP and TTIP Secret?

Basically, these trade agreements are being kept secret because they violate regulations and national laws for the sole benefit of large corporations.

​On this web page, the Canadian government asks if we are “Looking for a brief recap of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating rounds?“

This is a representative sample of what it offers to explain two years worth of negotiations since Canada joined other governments in writing the TPP:

“Among the topics discussed in Washington were legal and institutional issues, textiles, rules of origin, state-owned enterprises, environment, goods market access, technical barriers to trade, and e-commerce.”

Feel better informed?

They might as well have said “we talked about a lot of stuff” and left it at that.

Here is something way more informative to read: a list of the 605 (overwhelmingly corporate) official “advisers” in the U.S. who have seen, and helped write, the TPP.

In the USA, members of Congress and a limited number of aides can see the text provided they agree not to take notes or discuss the details publicly. Apologists for this undemocratic idiocy become irate when the TPP is called a “secret”, but, at the same time, justify hiding it from the public by claiming it improves governments’ bargaining position. Apparently we should assume that governments and their corporate “advisers” have spent years secretly fighting like demons on behalf of cab drivers, factory workers and the unemployed.

In Australia, MPs are only allowed to see the TPP text if they sign a confidentiality agreement saying they won’t divulge details to the public for four years. What if the TPP is passed? Are they then allowed to talk what they saw? No. The agreement says “these confidentiality requirements shall apply for four years after entry into force of the TPP, or if no agreement enters into force, for four years after the last round of negotiations…”

In the USA, the public is supposed to be impressed that Obama is required to release the full text (in exchange for getting “fast track” negotiating authority) sixty days before signing the agreement – the complex agreement government officials and hundreds of corporate insiders spent several years writing behind closed doors.

Could contempt for the public, and for democracy, be any more obvious?

This site jokingly claims the TPP has been already released by the Obama administration. It sums the absurdity up very succinctly.

Secrecy aside, would most of the public understand the TPP – the parts that have been leaked by Wikileaks that is, or the seventeen chapters of TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) that have also been leaked by Wikileaks?

No. These deals are written in technical language that requires lawyers and economists – or others who have spent a lot of time researching – to fully grasp. Now there are legal experts and economists who are not in the pockets of powerful western governments and big corporations. Such people could credibly explain what the implications of these agreements are for 99.999 percent of the public who are not among the insiders.

Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end when the details of these secret agreements, thanks to Wikileaks and other activists, are made public long before governments want them to be. We are still faced with a struggle against the corporate media that is very good at marginalizing those who explain exactly why governments and corporate insiders worked in secrecy for so many years.

The secrecy is disgusting and revealing but it is also rather ineffective at this point. The leaked sections that have been published, and our experience with previous agreements like NAFTA, tells us essentially what the negotiating governments are after – ways to stuff the pockets and expand the power of the insiders at the expense of everyone else. The corporate media, not secrecy, is actually the more important barrier to fair and open debate.

Dean Baker explained “TPP and TTIP are about getting special deals for businesses that they would have difficulty getting through the normal political process. For example, oil and gas companies that think they should be able to drill everywhere may be able to get rules that prevent national or state governments from restricting their activities. This could mean, for example, that New York State would have to compensate potential frackers for the ban that Governor Cuomo imposed last week.

Similarly, the financial industry will be looking to roll back the sort of regulations put in place through Dodd-Frank and similar legislation in other countries. Again, if governments want to ensure that their financial system is safe, they may have to pay the banks for the privilege.”

Everyone owes a special thanks to Canada’s Finance Minister for being brazen enough to argue that the US should loosen up financial regulations adopted since crash of 2008 in order to be in compliance with NAFTA.

As Lori Wallach explained about TISA in this Democracy Now interview, governments and their small army of corporate insiders are working on ways to set the clock back on financial regulation – to about the 1990s! She describes a provision that is actually called the “standstill” in the text of the agreement. It is explicitly designed to prevent governments for bringing in new financial regulations that corporations don’t like. Does the public support a new ban a particular type of derivative that is going to be a disaster? Does the public want new rules that protect their privacy online? Too bad. TISA will make many new rules, and even existing ones, into trade violations.

No wonder governments have insisted on keeping these agreements secret for so many years.

WikiLeaks releases secret TISA docs: The more evil sibling of TTIP and TPP

The new agreement that would hamstring governments and citizens even further.

WikiLeaks has released 17 secret documents from the negotiations of the global Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), which have been taking place behind closed doors, largely unnoticed, since 2013. The main participants are the United States, the European Union, and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan and Israel, which together comprise two-thirds of global GDP.

Significantly, all the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are absent, and are therefore unable to provide their perspective and input for what is essentially a deal designed by Western nations, for the benefit of Western corporations. According to the European Commission’s dedicated page: “TiSA aims at opening up markets and improving rules in areas such as licensing, financial services, telecoms, e-commerce, maritime transport, and professionals moving abroad temporarily to provide services.”

TISA’s focus on services complements the two other global trade agreements currently being negotiated in secret: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the corresponding deal for the Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which deal with goods and investments. Like both TTIP and TPP, one of the central aims of TISA is to remove “barriers” to trade in services, and to impose a regulatory ratchet on participating nations. In the case of TISA, the ratchet ensures that services are deregulated and opened up to private companies around the world, and that once privatised, they cannot be re-nationalised.

The 17 documents released today include drafts and annexes on issues such as air traffic, maritime transport, professional services, e-commerce, delivery services, transparency, and domestic regulation, as well as several documents on the positions of negotiating parties. The annexe on e-commerce is likely to be of particular interest to Ars readers, since, if adopted, it would have a major impact on several extremely sensitive areas in the digital realm.

Thou shalt not…

For example, the question of data flows—specifically the flow of European citizens’ personal data to the US—is at the heart of disputes over the EU’s proposed Data Retention rules, the Safe Harbour agreement, and TTIP. Here’s what Article 2.1 of TISA’s e-commerce annexe would impose upon its signatories: “No Party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, [accessing, processing or storing] information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in connection with the conduct of the service supplier’s business.”

What that means in practice, is that the EU would be forbidden from requiring that US companies like Google or Facebook keep the personal data of European citizens within the EU—one of the ideas currently being floated in Germany. Article 9.1 imposes a more general ban on requiring companies to locate some of their computing facilities in a territory: “No Party may require a service supplier, as a condition for supplying a service or investing in its territory, to: (a) use computing facilities located in the Party’s territory.”

TTIP explained: The secretive US-EU treaty that undermines democracy

A boost for national economies, or a Trojan Horse for corporations?

Article 6 of the leaked text seems to ban any country from using free software mandates: “No Party may require the transfer of, or access to, source code of software owned by a person of another Party, as a condition of providing services related to such software in its territory.” The text goes on to specify that this only applies to “mass-market software,” and does not apply to software used for critical infrastructure. It would still prevent a European government from specifying that its civil servants should use only open-source code for word processing—a sensible requirement given what we know about the deployment of backdoors in commercial software by the NSA and GCHQ.

Without WikiLeaks, the presence of these far-reaching proposals would not have been revealed until after the agreement had been finalised—at which point, nothing could be done about them, since the text would be fixed. With the publication of these documents, civil society has an opportunity to find out what is being discussed behind those closed doors, and to analyse and discuss the implications. Whether the negotiators will take account of what ordinary people think is another matter.

The TTIP deal hands British sovereignty to multinationals

This privileging of corporate interests over democracy is only going to get worse. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a treaty being hammered out between the EU and the US with woefully little scrutiny – could grant companies the same legal rights as nation states, enabling them to sue elected governments in secret courts to block policies that dent future profits. And sure enough – using a similar treaty – Philip Morris sued the Australian government for the same policy. It used the same tactic against Uruguay’s government for enlarging health warnings on cigarette packages.

This legal action should be treated as a test. Do we allow major corporations – not least those profiting from human misery – to have more rights in law than people? And indeed, this could be overreach. If Big Tobacco succeeds in wrenching £11bn worth of taxpayers’ money from schools and hospitals, they may find public anger – and demands for retribution – rather hard to ignore.

If the law favours Big Tobacco over taxpayers, then the law is a disgrace

Thanks to this upcoming £11bn lawsuit, we are about to find out whether the law values corporations over individuals

Do property rights trump the health, wellbeing and lives of millions of people? Around 100,000 Britons die of smoking-related illnesses every year: from cancer to heart disease. Worldwide, the figure is a startling 6 million annually. It’s doubtful that history will be particularly kind to those who profited from the tobacco industry. Our descendants will also undoubtedly find it astonishing that cigarettes were freely available, while possessing far less harmful and addictive substances could end in prison sentences.

With TTIP looming, this privileging of corporate interests over democracy is only about to get worse

Nonetheless, it is a matter of free will whether people choose to part with their money and buy cigarettes; but there’s rightly consensus that we should discourage people from taking up the habit, and inform consumers of the dire health implications. One such measure is the introduction of plain cigarette packaging – a policy that David Cameron’s successful spinmeister and tobacco lobbyist, Lynton Crosby, thankfully failed to block. But now the tobacco companies are fighting back, suing the government for up to £11bn on the basis that it would constitute “deprivation of a highly valuable intellectual property”.

This is an absurd example of how the law values property over people. Our government is democratically elected. Yes, that rightly means there have to be checks and balances, and policies must abide by the existing framework of the law. But if the law enables tobacco companies to extort £11bn from the government – money, ironically enough, that could be used to treat people suffering from tobacco-related illnesses – then the law is wrong. If the law does not value people’s lives and wellbeing over the rights of tobacco companies to make profit from cancer sticks, then the law is morally bankrupt.

US-Asia trade deal in tatters after senators target Chinese currency manipulation

US President Barack Obama’s ambitions to pass sweeping new free trade agreements with Asia and Europe are in tatters after Senate Democrats rebelled, having been rebuffed on their demands to curtail Chinese currency manipulation.

A vote to push through a bill on the trade deals failed on Tuesday as 45 senators voted against it, to 52 in favour. Obama needed 60 out of the 100 votes for it to pass.

Failure to secure so-called “fast track” negotiating authority from Congress represents a huge blow to the president’s top legislative priority.

White House officials dismissed the Senate vote against fast-track as a “procedural snafu” but without this crucial agreement from lawmakers to give the administration negotiating freedom, it is seen as highly unlikely that international diplomats can complete either of the two giant trade deals currently in negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The Senate fast-track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA, was facing even tougher opposition in the US House of Representatives.

Opponents have been emboldened by the growing influence of liberal senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and were joined by all but one Senate Democrat in voting against moving forward with TPA.

Even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race and historically a supporter of free trade, has been cautious amid growing concern over the effect of globalisation on middle-class jobs, warning against “trade for trades sake”.

But the failure to persuade even the half-dozen Democrats needed to join Republicans in the Senate is a shock reversal from earlier consensus in the finance committee, which had included an agreement to soften the impact on US jobs with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

Oregon senator Ron Wyden, who had led Democrat efforts to find a compromise with Republicans on the committee, said he had withdrawn his support because they refused to guarantee passage of another additional bill to prevent currency manipulation by China.

White House trade negotiators fear that provisions in this bill would prove impossible to introduce into trade talks at this late stage and Republicans have dismissed the issue as a wrecking tactic by Democrats.

Utah senator Orrin Hatch, the Republican sponsor of the TPA bill, accused Wyden and other Democrats of betrayal in a speech on the Senate floor.

“I am shocked that after all we have done, the bipartisan vote in committee and the importance of TPA and TAA to the president that, we now have damaging procedural mechanics that can make this impossible,” he said. “It is hard for me to believe. We had an agreement and I am concerned about that agreement being broken.”

Hatch later told reporters the issue must be resolved quickly but was uncertain of the pathway forward. The congressional drama over the TPA, he added, “creates a whole new monster set of arguments and debates that we don’t need” in negotiations over the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But Democratic critics heralded the vote as a breakthrough moment.

“We need to fundamentally renegotiate American trade agreements so that our largest export doesn’t become decent paying American jobs,” said Sanders.

Business leaders expressed disappointment in the vote. The Business Roundtable, Washington’s top business lobby group, had urged the Senate to pass TPA “without delay” arguing the trade pact would support US jobs and spur economic growth.

Last week Obama chose Nike’s headquarters to call for Congress to support the deal. Nike chief executive Mark Parker has claimed the deal would allow it to create 10,000 new jobs in the US.

Source URL (modified on May 13th 2015, 8:21am):

Protecting the autonomy of states to enact tobacco control measures under trade and investment agreements

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