from the Paul-Magnette-says-there-are dept
Techdirt has been covering so-called trade deals like TPP, TTIP, TISA and CETA for many years, and we've reported on the deep problems that people have discerned in their proposals. A legitimate criticism might be that pointing out difficulties is all very well, but what are the alternatives? One was offered back in 2013, from something called the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance:
an alliance of development and farmers' groups, Fair Trade activists, trade unionists, migrant workers, environmentalists, women's, human rights, faith and consumer groups from all over Europe, developing an alternative vision of European trade policy that puts people and planet before big business.
That sank without trace, and things have been pretty quiet since then on the alternative trade deals front. But now we have the grandly-named Namur Declaration. The name is significant: it's the capital of the Belgian region of Wallonia that came close to derailing the EU-Canada trade deal (and may still do so). The 29 signatories (pdf) are all European academics, and they include the well-known economist Thomas Piketty, and a former political science professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, called Paul Magnette. He's better known as the Minister-President of Wallonia, and the person who led the resistance to CETA, which adds an extra piquancy to the Declaration. Here's the basic intent:
The propositions in this Declaration aim to meet the legitimate concerns of a growing number of European citizens. Inspired by the values of solidarity, democracy and progress that constitute the European Union, these propositions must, according to the signatories, become the standard in every negotiation of trade and economic treaties in which the EU and its Member States are stakeholders.
It then goes on to make the interesting comment:
This means that the EU is not in a position today to negotiate a balanced agreement with the United States, given the asymmetry between the partners, especially in terms of the degree of completion of their respective domestic markets and the unresolved extraterritorial issues of US law.
The main Declaration consists of three sections. The first, "Respect for democratic procedures," calls for a bunch of sensible things. For example, it says:
Public analyses and contestation of the potential effects of a new economic and commercial treaty should take place before establishing a negotiating mandate.
The interim results of the negotiations should be made public and accessible in due course, so that civil society is ensured full knowledge and a parliamentary debate can take place before closing the negotiations
The second section calls for "Compliance with socio-economic, sanitary and environmental legislation," and includes the following novel idea:
Standstill clauses should be included to prevent the Parties from lowering their social, sanitary and environmental norms to promote exports and attract investment. These clauses shall be matched with sanction mechanisms, and Parties' compliance with their obligations may in no case substantiate a claim for compensation by investors or other private economic operators
That's a neat subversion of the traditional standstill clause -- for example in TISA -- which is designed to ensure that parties cannot ever reduce their concessions to business, and must always move in the direction of increasing liberalization and deregulation. In the last section, the Namur Declaration addresses the thorny issue of corporate sovereignty:
The recourse to national and European competent courts should be favoured. International dispute settlement mechanisms should be established only insofar as they have certain advantages (in terms of the uniform application of treaties, speed and qualification of judges), include transparency guarantees and an appeal mechanism ensuring the consistency of decisions
As well as calling for truly independent and impartial judges, the Declaration also wants any dispute resolution mechanism to be available to small companies and even members of the public.
The Namur Declaration is mostly of interest because it grew out of Magnette's personal experience with CETA (article in French). The fact that a few dozen leading academics have lent their names to it adds weight, but is unlikely to bring about major changes to the way that trade negotiations are conducted. However, seismic political developments on both sides of the Atlantic are already doing that; let's hope these provide an opportunity to debate and maybe even adopt some of the Declaration's bold ideas.