Free Trade, what is at stake? More on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - TTIP

8 Apr 2014

Dozens of activists from across Europe gathered in Brussels on 12 and 13 March for a conference and action against the free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, organized by Alter Summit, Seattle 2 Brussels Network, Blockupy Europe, ATTAC TTIP and the Belgian D19-20 Alliance. During the 4th round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels, activists were concerned about the potential impact of the agreement on humans and the environment.

On the 13th of March, during the action against the TTIP in front of the building of the European Commission in Brussels, the police prevented us from waving our flags and manifesting in the space provided. The European Commission wanted to cancel the event, but it didn't stop the 100 protesters who continued to delegitimize the TTIP.

On March 31st, Médecine Pour le Tiers Monde (M3M) and 22 Belgian organizations joined forces for the electoral debate "Free trade, what is at stake?". Belgian politicians were asked about their position on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TTIP) and the agreement between the European Union , Peru and Colombia ( TLC). NGOs and North-South movements are active around EU free trade agreements with the south that affect their partners in developing countries and have already proven their adverse effects on humans and the environment extensively.

"The name TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) or TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) looks an awful lot like " NAFTA " ( North American Free Trade Agreement ) ," said Mike Dolin , a member of the American Teamsters union in Washington. You can be sure that also this trade agreement will have a negative impact on health, social protection, employment and quality of work, the environment and - not in the least – democracy. Susan George of the Transnational Institute and veteran of the antiglobalist movement suited to that: "I am sorry that you will go home with some bad news." And she was right.

The Transatlantic agreement promises to create jobs and prosperity, but will it stick to that promise ? Bill Clinton made the same promise in the 90's with the Free Trade Agreement between Canada , the U.S. and Mexico ( NAFTA ). However, NAFTA caused the bankruptcy of 1.4 million Mexican corn farmers and the loss of nearly a million jobs in 10 years.

The TTIP would contain investor-state-dispute settlement mechanisms( ISDS ) , which enables  investors to sue countries for the loss of current or anticipated profits, even if it's about social or environmental legislation. Some examples. The pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly sued the Canadian state because it wouldn't approve 2 of its patents and Philip Morris filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Australia because it wanted to put shocking health warnings on cigarette packs.

While civil society is left in limbo, during "networking cocktails" opinions of influential business lobbies are greatly appreciated. According to Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory these business consultations are paired with appetizers of foie Gras dipped in caviar. "This, while unions as official stakeholders are seated next to the table, not at the table ! " said Mike Dolin. The mandate of the European Commission is undemocratic and there is a total lack of public participation in the decision .

The TTIP wants to “harmonize” European and U.S. regulations. Although European Trade CommissionerKarel De Gucht said that " we will not get American beef hormones on our plates , we are concerned that European regulations will be reduced. We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating working conditions that will be created by further liberalization, since the U.S. has not ratified  International labor laws of the ILO ( International LabourOrganisation ). Also, for social and environmental protection, we are worried about the preservation and respect of the European precautionary principle, that does not exist in the US.

On March 12, Karel De Gucht announced that shale gas exploration is part of the mandate for negotiations on the free trade agreement with the United States. During Obama's visit , this has again been underlined. In Latin America, shale gas exploration projects caused enormous damage to the environment and human health by, inter alia,  pollution of land and water with carcinogens.

Last but not least, a word on human rights. While the agreement with Colombia and Peru is considered by some parties as a "tool " to enforce human rights, we see no improvement in the field . This free trade agreement is in itself a threat to the Colombian people. Human rights don’t merelyencompass murder and oppression, but also decent work .

The Transatlantic Trade Agreement is part of a new generation of trade and investment agreements, which will set the world standard . If this agreement is ratified, all other countries will have to comply with the same standards of ISDS , minimum social and environmental legislation and high protection of intellectual property rights in order not to be excluded from world trade. It is the forming of a geopolitical bloc against emerging economies Brazil, Russia , India , China and South Africa . The impact of the agreement will undoubtedly be much broader than just the United States and Europe but will also be felt in the developing world.

In July 2014 , the agreement will have its sixth round of negotiations in Brussels. Again, international action days will be organized with the aim of stopping the TTIP . An ambitious but achievable goal,  proven by the successful protests in Seattle in 1999 and the worldwide anti-globalization movement that continues growing.  Also, the free trade agreement between the EU , Colombia and Peru has not yet been approved by the Belgian parliaments and there are still campaigns ongoing.

Natalie Van Gijsel - from  M3M

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