TTIP: Wheels come off trade deal

The movement is building against TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. John Hilary provides an update from a struggle that might just be going our way

August 1, 2014 · 4 min read

US embassy staff in Berlin made an extraordinary appeal this summer to enlist public support for the beleaguered Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is being negotiated in secret between the US and the EU. ‘Fed up with all the bad press that TTIP’s been getting?’ tweeted the embassy. ‘Send us your ideas and we’ll support you with up to $20,000.’

The wheels are coming off the TTIP bandwagon. The economic claims made for TTIP – including the absurd idea that every European family will miraculously find themselves €545 a year better off – have been rubbished even by pro-free trade commentators such as Professor Jagdish Bhagwati. The EU’s own impact assessment estimates that at least one million people will lose their jobs as a direct result of TTIP. The European Commission admits that many will not find other work.

For its part, the UK government once suggested that TTIP could be worth ‘up to £10 billion a year’ to the economy. Yet the minister responsible for TTIP, Ken Clarke, admitted at a meeting in the House of Commons that the figure has no credibility.

Rising resistance

TTIP threatens to be the greatest transfer of power to transnational capital in a generation, and even with limited media interest, the issue is rising up the political agenda. Anti-capitalist campaign groups have long warned of the dangers of free trade agreements and have joined forces with other civil society organisations to draw attention to the threat TTIP poses. Anti-fracking groups, Occupy activists, food sovereignty campaigners and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are all building the resistance. There has been particular interest from local NHS campaigners, who rightly see the risk of irreversible liberalisation under TTIP.

The trade union movement is also engaged. Unison’s annual conference voted overwhelmingly for a national campaign against TTIP, while the Royal College of Nursing has urged its leadership to protect health services from the free trade threat. The teaching unions are also joining the fight, including both the NUT and the UCU, which has committed to putting an anti-TTIP motion to this September’s TUC conference.

The GMB and Unite have declared their total opposition to the agreement, ensuring an overwhelming majority against TTIP within the TUC. Parallel calls to stop the TTIP negotiations have been made by trade union federations in countries such as France, Spain and Germany. German opposition is particularly important, given that trade unions there have traditionally backed free trade deals because of the perceived benefits to their members.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), however, has stood apart from this growing body of resistance. Together with its US counterpart, the AFL‑CIO, it has continued to talk of TTIP as a potential ‘gold standard’ agreement, clinging to the fiction that it might lead to an improvement in labour standards (including US ratification of ILO conventions) and new jobs. This is despite official warnings that TTIP aims only at deregulation. US trade unionists need to remember the golden future they were promised 20 years ago under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which resulted in the net loss of one million US jobs.

The Labour leadership remains resolutely pro-TTIP, despite ample evidence of its unpopularity during the European elections. When the agreement was debated in the House of Lords in June, Labour frontbench spokesperson Lord Stevenson was ‘happy to confirm’ that his party stood in perfect harmony with the Tories and Lib Dems in its support for TTIP. Incredibly, he failed to offer a shred of concern over any aspect of the agreement, not even the NHS.

Officials concede that their window for concluding a deal on TTIP is narrowing. There will be little chance of an agreement if negotiations are not completed by the end of 2015, when the new race for the White House gets underway. With so little time to play with, the slightest upset can knock TTIP off course.

The national No TTIP tour and day of action in July was a first move towards building a concerted popular response to TTIP on both sides of the Atlantic, and we are now coordinating our actions with other European and US movements. We are pressing UK MEPs to join the opposition and looking ahead to next year’s general election, when we hope to make TTIP an issue. The fight is just beginning, and already the prospects are looking good.

John Hilary is executive director of War on Want and author of The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: a charter for deregulation, an attack on jobs, an end to democracy

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