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Imagine a scenario. A company wants to mine for gold in unspoiled rainforest. Gold mining is notoriously polluting, making extensive use, among other things, of arsenic. Open-cast mining, moreover, causes extensive deforestation. Luckily the country concerned has recently banned new open-cast mining. And the ban is hugely popular; large demonstrations have demanded the government implements it more effectively.
So when the high court rules that the company cannot mine, it does so with a democratic and popular, as well as legal, mandate. This, in any reasonable world, would be the end of the matter. But not in a world ruled by investment treaties. In this world, the mining company has cause to sue said country in an international investor dispute court. For $1 billion.
As you might have begun to suspect, this isn’t a fictional scenario. It describes the case that Calgary-based Infinito Gold is taking against Costa Rica under the terms of the Canada-Costa Rica investment treaty. These kinds of ‘bilateral’ treaties have snowballed in recent years. And the mechanisms they contain are likely to make their way into the EU-US trade agreement (or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) that is being negotiated during 2014.
We don’t know what exactly is being proposed in this treaty – the negotiations are secret. But a recent European Commission negotiating proposal leaked to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) suggests it will go even further than expanding these kinds of egregious legal rights. It proposes a ‘regulatory co‑operation council’, which would seek to harmonise regulation between the EU and US and ensure business interests are looked after. Corporate representatives would be involved as standard.
CEO researcher Kenneth Haar writes: ‘This model puts the business groups at the table with regulators to essentially co-write legislation. Existing and future EU regulation would have to go through onerous procedures and lengthy negotiations with a strong business presence, in a way that would be likely to avoid any meaningful democratic debate. And the odds are that it will result in a major deregulation offensive.’
The British government has been an enthusiastic cheerleader of this trade deal. On this issue it is not at all at odds with the neoliberal elite that runs the EU. What better way to further open up the NHS to private profit than to rig investment rules in favour of corporate interests?
Much of the critique of the coalition’s cuts programme has focused on the people it harms and whether it will get us out of recession. But this is only part of the picture. Whatever the reality of George Osborne’s claims of economic recovery, the truth is that austerity is working, precisely because the whole point was to permanently shift wealth and power to the ruling class.
More than a decade ago, the anti‑globalisation movement focused on the issues of free trade and debt as mechanisms for the rich world to dominate the rest. Now those issues are at the centre of the attacks on our living standards in Britain and Europe.
As Nick Dearden argues, a renewed and updated anti-globalisation movement is needed. Like the last wave, it must be internationalist. But it also needs to be woven into those struggles against austerity that we have managed to wage.
This is no small task. But understanding and resisting the onward march of corporate power is central to making the world habitable for the majority.
The collapse of Carillion is only one small part of a larger story of decades of economic mismanagement
Laura McDonald writes that universities should not just be finishing schools for the wealthy or disciplinary institutions churning out docile workers.
A floundering alliance of Blairites is trying to reinvent itself for a Corbynite age. By Tom Costello.
Marienna Pope-Weidemann explains why decades of occupation and oppression have led some people to call Israel an apartheid state.
International Women's Day is set to be marked by strikes from "paid work in offices and factories, or unpaid domestic work in homes, communities and bedrooms."
Laurie Laybourn-Langton writes that measuring the economy is political - and economic measurement dominates politics.
David Scott argues that our prison system represents a human rights disaster, and reformist solutions can't tackle the root problems.
A deeper engagement with culture can strengthen our democracy, taking political projects beyond electoral impact and festival memes into a whole new world of radical, lasting change.
Ruth Tanner writes that revelations about Oxfam's behaviour in Haiti are shocking, but not surprising.
The actions of Oxfam officials are horrendous - but gutting foreign aid funding just puts more people at risk, writes Daniel Gibson.
For All, By All
The latest issue of Red Pepper asks - how do we invite, support and nurture greater public participation so that our cultural capabilities are empowered beyond the crushing logic of market fundamentalism?
‘We are hungry in three languages’: The forgotten promise of the Bosnian Spring
Ruth Tanner looks back at a wave of protests which swept through Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014.
It’s time for a cultural renewal of the left
Andrew Dolan writes that we need to integrate art, music, films and poetry into our movement, creating spaces where political ideas are given further room to breathe.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes