The agreement must not include a private justice system for foreign investors…

Debates about TTIP, the hugely contentious proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement between the US and the EU, tend to focus on opposition to the agreement within Europe. This is for two reasons: TTIP is very much part of a US initiative intended to open up markets for American businesses, and there is strong evidence that the losers in any eventual TTIP agreement will be the public services of EU member states, businesses supplying their governments and public authorities, and workers whose pay and conditions are likely to suffer at the hands of rampant free-market capitalism.  On the face of it, TTIP might actually be popular among the likely winners in any deal – US business and even, perhaps, the workers it employs.

But that would be to draw a simplistic conclusion and one that reckons without union solidarity. So it comes as something of a pleasant corrective to what seems like a Eurocentric narrative to discover that TTIP does have its critics in the US. And to demonstrate that, we have the text of a recent communiqué following a meeting in Washington DC between Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

The two men have issued a joint statement in which they argued that the current TTIP negotiations appear to have taken “the wrong course”.

“If this course isn’t corrected,” they say, “TTIP will fail to create the people and planet-centered agreement needed to benefit the working peoples of the European Union and the United States.

“We have consistently made clear that the agreement must not include a private justice system for foreign investors and any supranational obstacles to regulation in the public interest,” the statement continues.  “We have called for broad, precise and enforceable protections for labour rights, public services, and the environment.”

The two leaders agree that the original, US-backed, requirement to include an “Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism” (ISDS) in the TTIP deal is “discredited”. The ISDS would have allowed individual companies to sue a government in a secret procedure when they happened to dislike national laws or regulations designed specifically to protect public services or strategic businesses from hostile takeovers. In its place, the EU has proposed an “Investment Court System” [ICS] which Trumka and Visentini describe as “an improvement”. But this, they say, “is still enormously problematic and is not needed in any transatlantic trade and investment deal.”

According to the joint statement, “There have been massive investment flows in both directions for decades without any such discriminatory provisions [as ICS], and they are still unnecessary. Investors should act responsibly and respect international guidelines such as those set down by the OECD and the UN. The AFL-CIO and the ETUC will further strengthen our cooperation to hold multinational companies accountable.”

Trumka and Visentini stress that “labour rights, based on international conventions of the International Labour Organization, are indivisible and should be enforced at all levels in all our countries and entail economic consequences in case of breaches.”

The statement concludes: “On these, as with other issues, we do not see our negotiators moving towards the 21st century agreement that we have been promised, but rather more of the same old corporate-style trade deal. The transparency we have called for has not been achieved. Not only have no draft consolidated texts been released, the US has failed to publish even its own proposals.”

It seems likely that the current TTIP discussions are now facing resolute opposition from a united transatlantic union movement. That is some cause for optimism.

More information

Declaration of Joint Principles ETUC/AFL-CIO

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Gary Herman

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