Unbeknownst to the wider world two enormous trade deals have been in the works for the past several years
Shrouded in secrecy, talks on these deals, which will cover over half of world trade in goods and services and which include such sensitive topics as intellectual property rights, flew under just about everyone’s radar.
That is until WikiLeaks revealed part of the first deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, late last year. Their example was quickly followed by three German MEPs (Ska Keller, Rebecca Harms and Sven Giegold) who leaked the EU’s position paper on the second deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership last month.
Keeping these two agreements apart, not to mention reconciling them with the rest of the world trade regime, can be difficult. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is being negotiated between the United States, the European Union and its member states, and is usually abbreviated‘TTIP’, although it’s sometimes also called ‘TAFTA’ (for Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement). Negotiations started in 2013, although pre-negotiation talks have probably been ongoing for much longer.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated between nations of the Pacific Rim: Canada, the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. Negotiations started in 2010, and this agreement is usually abbreviated ‘TTP’.
What is the purpose of these agreements? To lower barriers to trade, a process that usually involves getting rid of tariffs and harmonizing industry standards. That can include anything from safety standards on cars, to agreeing on what counts as a sardine, to toughening up copyright and patent protection.
Now, some of you might remember that we already have an agreement that is supposed to deal with these things: the World Trade Organization Agreement which entered into force in 1995. To put it mildly, the World Trade Organization has not proven terribly popular. In fact, the organization has mainly been used as a vehicle to force open vulnerable economies and make the rich richer and the poor poorer around the world. Thus, unsurprisingly, talks on further liberalization measures within the WTO’s global framework have stalled.
The Doha Round of negotiations has been ongoing since 2001 with no end in sight, mainly due to sharp disagreements on agriculture and intellectual property between developed and developing countries.
Hence, the confusingly abbreviated TTIP and TTP, which are being negotiated by more exclusive sets of countries whose leaders happen to (mainly) agree that it would be a good idea to go much further down the trade liberalization rabbit hole than even the hugely unpopular WTO has. One of the most concerning ways they want to do this is by seeking to institutionalize what is known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) within the agreements’ framework.
It is this latter path that the TTIP and TTP are pursuing, but in much more expanded form, because they propose clauses that will create ISDS mechanisms. Unlike individual deals on developing specific natural resources, the TTIP and TTP covers a wide range of what are considered to be investments in the states. Therefore, incorporating these clauses would mean that if a country later makes a law that contravenes the terms of the TTIP or TTP, for example, in the interests of protecting public health, that a company that suffers damages (for example, because they have been making a product that contravenes the new rule) can sue the state for compliance with the treaty, bypassing the normal court system. In other words, foreign companies are placed above the law of the host State through these agreements.
just bubbling away in the background..sometimes mentioned but hardly ever by their real names..
“foreign companies are placed above the law of the host State through these agreements.”
corporations with more power than people..and running countries..