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All Give and No Take--the so-Called Trans Atlantic "Free Trade" Agreement

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Do those negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have any interest in democracy? Here's a test. 

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.  


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