The thirteenth round of negotiations of the free trade deal between the EU and the USA known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) starts in New York on 25 April 2016 amid growing unease among voters in Europe and the US. A recen …

The thirteenth round of negotiations of the free trade deal between the EU and the USA known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) starts in New York on 25 April 2016 amid growing unease among voters in Europe and the US.

A recent survey, conducted by the UK polling company, YouGov, for Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17 percent of Germans believe that TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent in 2014. Similarly, in the US only 18 percent support the deal, compared to 53 percent two years ago. Perhaps even more worrying is that nearly half of US respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion.

According to the Ars Technica website, there are “three main areas driving public concern in Germany: fears about consumer protection, where 48 percent of those interviewed thought TTIP would have a negative effect; environmental standards (46 percent); and social standards—things like workers’ rights—where 40 percent expressed concern. By contrast, those asked in the US did not have worries about any particular issue.”

The UK Independent noted that the survey findings are “bound to cast a shadow over TTIP talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama in the next few days.”

In the UK, a Freedom of Information Access (FOIA) request, released on 22 April by campaign group Global Justice Now, revealed that the only risk assessment that the UK government has carried out on the introduction of secret corporate courts under TTIP shows lots of risks and almost no benefit.

The corporate court system, known as ‘investor protection’, is the most controversial aspect of TTIP. There’s been extensive documentation as to how similar investor protection provision in other trade deals has incurred multi-billion lawsuits for governments around the world.

In February, a FOIA request was made to the UK government’s Department for Business Industry and Skills (BIS) asking what risk assessments had been carried out regarding the results of including investor protection in any eventual TTIP agreement.

The response from BIS was that the only such assessment that had been carried out was a 2013 study commissioned from the London School of Economics which concluded:

  • There is little reason to think that investment protection would provide the UK with significant economic benefits.
  • There is little reason to think that investment protection would provide the UK with significant political benefits.
  • There is some reason to expect an investment protection would impose meaningful economic costs on the UK. Based on Canada’s experience under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we would expect investment protection to be regularly invoked by US investors against the UK for governmental actions that could not normally be challenged under UK law.

The response from BIS also revealed that no risk assessment had been carried out for the inclusion of investor protection in CETA–the free trade deal between Canada and EU that is even further down the process of approval than TTIP.

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now said:

“Introducing a system of secret corporate courts under TTIP would be a fundamental shift in trade and legal policies, so it’s staggering that the government is pushing us into it with almost no assessment of what the risks are for our policy makers or the tax payer. What’s even worse is that the one assessment that the government has commissioned shows that there are lots of risks and no benefit. Yet again this toxic trade deal is exposed as being full of harmful consequences for ordinary people, and new powers and privileges for corporate elites.”

Court cases brought against governments under investor protection in other trade deals include:

  • Tobacco giant Philip Morris has sued Australia for introducing plain packaging on cigarettes.
  • Philip Morris also sued Uruguay for printing a health warning on cigarette packets.
  • Waste and energy company Veolia sued Egypt for introducing a minimum wage.
  • Argentina was sued for freezing energy prices to protect consumers following the country’s financial collapse.

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Gary Herman

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