The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Killing TTIP - The struggle against corporate power!

While Obama is visiting Europe to drum up support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the 13th round of negotiations of the treaty is currently taking place in the US. As John Hilary, the Executive Director of War on Want and one of the key initiators of the Stop-TTIP campaign in Europe, declared, TTIP is not only important in itself covering the EU and US. It is also significant, because it is regarded as a blueprint for all future trade deals. In this blog post, I will report on the key themes of his public lecture at Nottingham University, delivered on 26 April.

The three pillars of TTIP

Initiated in 2011, when the European Commission had invited big European companies to tell them what they would like to see in the area of trade, the proposals to date are pretty much a reflection of the interests of big business, organised in three main pillars. First, TTIP is not a conventional trade deal intended to stimulate trade in goods via tariff reductions, but focuses on deregulation of so-called non-tariff barriers, including national and European regulations, standards and rules. In practical terms, this implies, for example, that American beef, produced with growth hormones and currently illegal in Europe due to the negative health implications, could be sold in European supermarkets in the future. Equally, however, American ‘buy local provisions’, supporting thousands of jobs in the US, could no longer be retained. Clearly, TTIP is not about Europe versus America, but big business against the people.

Second, TTIP is about privatisation. By including public services in the trade deal, it ensures that already privatised public services can no longer be re-nationalised. This affects areas of essential services including water, education, rail, postal and health services amongst others. Finally, the third pillar is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, allowing companies to sue countries, if they feel that a change in policy has undermined their expected future profits. As John Hilary made clear, the recent move away from ad hoc courts to an Investment Court System (ICS) as a result of negotiations would retain the principle of companies being able to sue countries and, therefore, does not address the concerns of Stop-TTIP campaigners.

Importantly, TTIP together with the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPA) needs to be understood in its geopolitical dimension. With the US describing TTIP as its economic NATO directed against Russia and the purposeful exclusion of China from TPA, the US attempts to assert its dominance in the global political economy through these new set of multilateral trade agreements.

Blocking future trade deals

Nevertheless, not all is lost yet. Even if TTIP was concluded politically today, it would take another three to four years, before the EU institutions could vote on it. More urgent, John Hilary argued, is the potential ratification of CETA, the EU trade deal with Canada. It is crucial to ensure, similar to TTIP, that this deal is understood as a mixed agreement, which contains provisions which fall under member states responsibilities and, therefore, requires not only a vote in the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, but also in each individual parliament of the 28 member states. In short, the main question to be raised by the Stop-TTIP campaign is, where is democracy? The EU trade commissioner is not elected, British people have not elected the 27 Council of Minister members from other countries, nor has there been a democratic input into the appointment of the lead EU trade negotiators. It must at least be ensured that the various national parliaments have their say, which then in turn allows the Stop-TTIP campaign to secure its rejection.

And the movement against TTIP is growing in Britain as well as across Europe. There are student movements against TTIP, artists against TTIP, as well as small businesses against TTIP. Furthermore, over 1000 local authorities across Europe have declared themselves into TTIP free zones. John Hilary was emphatic that TTIP can be defeated by a large movement built from the grassroots.

Challenging the power of big business

This is not the first time that big business has attempted to push through its interests and was defeated. First, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was defeated in 1998 by a broad alliance of trade unions and social movements. Then the WTO Doha negotiations round and its expanded free trade agenda was sunk by widespread resistance. However, big business keeps coming back with new attempts at having its way. While resistance was successful against concrete initiatives, the fundamental balance of power in society had not been changed. Hence, John Hilary concluded his presentation, the struggle against TTIP can only be the first step of a more fundamental challenge of the power of big business and the way it is rooted in state and European institutions. Ultimately, what is required are clear economic, political and trade alternatives to overcome the power of capital.

John Hilary is Executive Director of the NGO War on Want and Honorary Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of The Poverty of Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2013) and The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs, an End to Democracy (updated version) (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2015). Moreover, he is co-editor of, and has contributed to, the book Free Trade and Transnational Labour (Routledge, 2015). 

Prof. Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

27 April 2016

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