Saturday, 11 April 2015

Launch of Scotland Against TTIP

Full version of article written by STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham for the Herald in advance of the launch of Scotland Against TTIP, 11th April.

The case made by the supporters of TTIP rests on one very bold assertion and one, very shaky, assumption. 

The bold assertion, in a nutshell, is that under TTIP the European economy will grow and that this growth will outweigh any economic negatives such as job losses and job displacement. 

The shaky assumption is that, dazzled by the big  numbers, ordinary citizens will care little for any further loss of democratic oversight of the way their economy is run and their services are delivered, prepared to trust, instead that their governments, the big multi-national institutions and big business, can be trusted with the world’s biggest ever trade deal.

And to be brutally honest, this has tended to be the way of things in the past.  Major trade deals, changes to the international regulation of finance and treaties governing key issues such as environmental protection and labour standards have been agreed with nary a murmur of dissent. But the response to TTIP has been different both because its proponents have been singularly unable to demonstrate its economic benefits and because, post the 2008 financial crisis, they have seriously underestimated the public mood.

The old trick of holding up a large number and hoping it will silence all criticism does not seem to be working this time.  The primary reason for this being that, in the context of the size of the European economy, £130 billion Euros of growth claimed is actually a very small number indeed.  Spread over a twelve year period it amounts to additional annual GDP growth of little more than 0.03%.  Just to be clear, this number is so small that, come 2027, the task of measuring whether additional growth had been achieved as a result of TTIP would be statistically impossible.

At the same time, no serious impact analysis has been undertaken (in Scotland, the UK or Europe), on what the effect of TTIP would be on overall employment, and crucially, the impact of job dislocation – the process by which some areas and regions would quite certainly lose employment, whilst others gained.  Derisory gains, enormous uncertainties.

Despite the rhetoric, TTIP is very little about removing tariffs barriers and very much about reducing protections to the environment and employment standards so that multi-nationals can trade with fewer inconvenient restrictions. The buzzwords used are ‘standardisation’ and ‘harmonisation’.  The truth is that corporate power is seeking to limit the intensely troublesome habit of some governments, some of the time, to support public ownership and to protect their citizens and the environment.

Against the general expectation that many standards would be harmonised through reduced protections, in one particular sector, the trend seems likely to be in the opposite direction.  It is entirely predictable that the under TTIP the pharmaceutical giants will be lobbying intensively to make their patents longer, stronger and more far reaching, with the entirely predictable negative impact on the cost of prescription drugs. 

But if the bold assertion of economic gain versus loss looks weak, weaker still is the assumption that citizens will stand idly by whilst the concentration of economic power continues at the expense of democratic accountability.  The coming together of a wide range of organisations, from trade unionists to local food campaigners and anti-poverty campaigners to environmental activists to form the Scotland Against TTIP coalition is part of a growing movement across Europe that aims to prevent a massive corporate power grab taking place at the expense of democratic sovereignty.  More than a million and a half people in Europe have signed a petition calling for TTIP to be scrapped, and next Saturday a day of action is taking place with hundreds of events and demonstrations taking place across the continent.
The reason for this upsurge in opposition seems clear.  Until a leaked draft was obtained last August, the TTIP negotiations were being undertaken in utmost secrecy.  The Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), considered a cornerstone of TTIP by its strongest supporters would allow international corporations to sue sovereign governments, bypassing existing legal procedures.  This culture of secrecy and body-swerving of democratic process feeds directly into a narrative, which people increasingly recognise and suspect.  Whether in Greece or Spain, where the traditional parties of government have been rejected and the diktats of international institutions challenged, or in the wider EU where opposition to the status quo is growing alongside a healthy disenchantment with the role of big finance, it is clear that traditional assumptions about the quiescent attitude of citizens and communities to the shaping of their economic futures cannot be relied upon. 

This is one trade deal that will not be passed on the nod.

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