Stoked by a summer heat wave and strong winds, widespread fires have been raging through south-central Chile since February 2, 2023. Over the course of several days, the deadly fires have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and have spread across more than 294,000 hectares (1,100 square miles). NASA satellite photo.
All Give & No Take
Do those negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have any interest in democracy? Here’s a test.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th March 2014
Nothing threatens democracy as much as corporate power. Nowhere do corporations operate with greater freedom than between nations, for here there is no competition. With the exception of the European parliament there is no transnational democracy, anywhere. All other supranational bodies – the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, trade organisations and the rest – work on the principle of photocopy democracy (presumed consent is transferred, copy by copy, to ever greyer and more remote institutions) or no democracy at all(1).
When everything has been globalised except our consent, corporations fill the void. In a system that governments have shown no interest in reforming, global power is often scarcely distinguishable from corporate power. It is exercised through backroom deals between bureaucrats and lobbyists.
This is how negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began. TTIP is a proposed single market between the United States and the European Union, described as “the biggest trade deal in the world”(2). Corporate lobbyists secretly boasted that they would “essentially co-write regulation”(3). But, after some of their plans were leaked and people responded with outrage(4,5), democracy campaigners have begun to extract a few concessions. The talks have just resumed, and there’s a sense that we cannot remain shut out.
This trade deal has little to do with removing trade taxes (tarriffs). As the EU’s chief negotiator says, about 80% of it involves “discussions on regulations which protect people from risks to their health, safety, environment, financial and data security”(6). Discussions on regulations means aligning the rules in the EU with those in the US. But Karel de Gucht, the European Trade Commissioner, maintains that European standards “are not up for negotiation. There is no ‘give and take’”(7). An international treaty without give and take? That is a novel concept. A treaty with the USA without negotiation? That’s not just novel, that’s nuts.
You cannot align regulations on both sides of the Atlantic without negotiation. The idea that the rules governing the relationship between business, citizens and the natural world will be negotiated upwards, ensuring that the strongest protections anywhere in the trading bloc will be applied universally, is simply not credible when governments on both sides of the Atlantic have promised to shred what they dismissively call red tape. There will be negotiation. There will be give and take. The result is that regulations are likely to be levelled down. To believe otherwise is to live in fairyland.
Last month the Financial Times reported that the US is using these negotiations “to push for a fundamental change in the way business regulations are drafted in the EU to allow business groups greater input earlier in the process.”(8) At first the European trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said this was “impossible”. Then he said he is “ready to work in that direction”(9). So much for no give and take.
But this is not all that democracy must give so that corporations can take. The most dangerous aspect of the talks is the insistence on both sides on a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)(10). ISDS allows corporations to sue governments at offshore arbitration panels of corporate lawyers, bypassing domestic courts. Inserted into other trade treaties, it has been used by big business to strike down laws that impinge on its profits: the plain packaging of cigarettes; tougher financial rules; stronger standards on water pollution and public health; attempts to leave fossil fuels in the ground(11).
At first Mr de Gucht told us there was nothing to see here(12). But in January the man who doesn’t do give and take performed a handbrake turn and promised that there would be a three-month public consultation on ISDS, beginning in “early March”(13). The transatlantic talks resumed on Monday. So far there’s no sign of the consultation.
And still there remains that howling absence: a credible explanation of why ISDS is necessary. As Kenneth Clarke, the British minister promoting TTIP, admits, “it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.”(14) So what is it doing in a US-EU treaty? A report commissioned by the UK government found that ISDS “is highly unlikely to encourage investment” and is “likely to provide the UK with few or no benefits.”(15) But it could allow corporations on both sides of the ocean to sue the living daylights out of governments that stand in their way.
Unlike Mr de Gucht, I believe in give and take. So instead of rejecting the whole idea, here are some basic tests which would determine whether or not the negotiators give a fig about democracy.
First, all negotiating positions, on both sides, would be released to the public as soon as they are tabled. Then, instead of being treated like patronised morons, we could debate these positions and consider their impacts. Secondly, every chapter of the agreement would be subject to a separate vote in the European parliament. At present the parliament will be invited only to adopt or reject the whole package: when faced with such complexity, that’s a meaningless choice. Thirdly, TTIP would contain a sunset clause. After five years it would be reconsidered(16). If it has failed to live up to its promise of enhanced economic performance, or if it reduces public safety or public welfare, it could then be scrapped. I accept that this would be almost unprecedented: most such treaties, unlike elected governments, are “valid indefinitely”(17). How democratic does that sound?
So here’s my challenge to Mr de Gucht and Mr Clarke and the others who want us to shut up and take our medicine: why not make these changes? If you reject them, how does that square with your claims about safeguarding democracy and the public interest? How about a little give and take?
1. George Monbiot, 2003. The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order. Harper Perennial, London.
16. This idea came up during a discussion with John Healey MP, who, while broadly in favour of TTIP, is campaigning for better transparency and accountability in the agreement.
17. John Healey’s researcher kindly asked the Commons research service to look into renewable agreements. They produced a few examples: the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Agreements, a number of treaties between India and Tanzania and India and Bangladesh, the Lomé Convention trade-and-aid agreements between the EU and some African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, and its successor, the Cotonou Agreement.
Winnipeg Free Press - By: Mike De Souza - 18/11/2010 Scrapped without Senate hearings, debate... =========== TAKE ACTION: Tell MPs and the Prime Minister to respect democracy and heed the will of Canadians Stephen Harper has done what he promised not... ========== LETTERS; Dear Editor: Re Unelected Tory senators kill climate bill passed by House , Gloria Galloway, Nov.17/2010 I am so shocked and ashamed, and disappointed by this callous political act, once again. This action by the Tory dominated Senate is the straw that broke the camel's back. The senators were undoubtedly following orders from the Tory leader who appointed them, even though he campaigned against such underhanded and devious tactics. Harper holds tyrannical control of his party, and the government whenever he can, and wields it in a condescending and undemocratic manner. Little by little he has eroded Canada's democratic government. But we Canadians just stand back and let him do it. Sometimes I w
WEDNESDAY, JULY 22, 2009 - by James Beddome, Leader, Green Party of Manitoba. Winnipeg, and the surrounding communities, are presently beholden to the same old game of staged ideological political chicken between the city and the province, and unfortunately our water supply (imagine a barrel of water) is set to collide in between. James speaks at a pro-water rally on the steps of city hall on the eve of the disastrous council vote. More pics, below .
Larry Powell Powell is a veteran, award-winning journalist based in Shoal Lake, Manitoba, Canada. He specializes in stories about agriculture and the environment. For decades, he worked for broadcast outlets in western Canada, including 5 years as Senior Editor for CBC Radio News in Saskatchewan. He is authorized to receive embargoed news releases on important, global stories, through the Science Media Centre of Canada, the Royal Society, Nature Research and the World Weather Attribution Network. He is a member of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists and is a past member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Three years ago, he joined an international team of writers providing articles for the Swiss-based online journal, “Focusing on Wildlife - celebrating the biodiversity of Planet Earth.” In June, 2014, he was a panelist at a world conference in Winnipeg entitled "Holding