Wednesday, 26 November 2014

TTIP and the betrayal of UK consumers

It has been said that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Into this category falls the Government’s lie that savage cuts to essential public services are an austerity-driven imperative to reduce national debt. It is nothing of the sort: the debt rises to record levels, while big business cherry picks services that have been built over many years with public money and expertise. While their shareholders, wherever they may be, will reap the short-term benefit, the euphemistically named ‘third sector’ – charities and voluntary groups – will be left to pick up the pieces. Government has no interest in public service.

Some lies, though, are so big that they can’t even be spoken aloud – except in terms of baffling acronyms designed to send us into stupor before we’ve understood their consequences. No doubt it is for this reason that the media (dominated by the multinationals who stand to benefit) have told us nothing about TTIP and why there is no public debate about ISDS – though it is no exaggeration to say that these represent the biggest challenges to democratic governance in a generation.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade treaty that has been negotiated between the EU and the US for some years – almost entirely behind closed doors and the details of which the EU and our government appear shy about disclosing. Its purpose, apparently, is to remove the barriers to trade between the continental blocs. Who could possibly argue with that?! Except the current trade barriers between the EU and US are already very low. In fact, the treaty’s purpose is to remove those pesky profit-blocking rules – the ones that stop consumers being poisoned or killed, or that prevent pollution. 

It is argued that this consumer-protecting legislation (derided by government as “bureaucratic red tape”) needs to be “harmonised”. Again, difficult to argue with that (though US regulation is far less stringent – eg 70% of US processed food contains genetically modified ingredients). But that is where the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – a part of the TTIP – comes into play. ISDS will allow big multinationals, using their armies of corporate lawyers, to sue national governments in offshore “arbitration tribunals” – beyond the UK courts – for doing anything that harms their profits. Fanciful? Not at all. Philip Morris, the US tobacco conglomerate, has already used similar trade treaties to sue the Uruguayan and Australian governments for trying to implement greater control on cigarette advertising. And a Swedish energy company has sued Germany for phasing out nuclear power. So should a future UK government try to enact a law that, for example, restricted the ability of a private-sector US medical services giant poaching great swathes of the NHS, it would find itself being sued for billions. 

By means of TTIP – supported by the three main parties and UKIP – our government is stripping UK citizens of the last vestiges of protection from rapacious big business. Speak out before it’s too late.