European Commissioner Claims 'Nothing Secret' About TAFTA/TTIP, Tries To Defend Corporate Sovereignty

from the getting-desperate dept

After lurking in the shadows for a few months, the mega transatlantic trade deal TAFTA/TTIP is starting to hit the mainstream media. Here, for example, is an excellent article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, which rightly singles out corporate sovereignty as a key threat:

Panic spreads through the European commission like ferrets in a rabbit warren. Its plans to create a single market incorporating Europe and the United States, progressing so nicely when hardly anyone knew, have been blown wide open. All over Europe people are asking why this is happening; why we were not consulted; for whom it is being done.

They have good reason to ask. The commission insists that its Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership should include a toxic mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement. Where this has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big corporations to sue governments before secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments.
In a clear sign that the European Commission is starting to worry that people are waking up to the dangers present in TAFTA/TTIP, Karel De Gucht, the commissioner for trade, has written a response to Monbiot's article. Techdirt readers will recall that it was largely because of De Gucht's handling of ACTA that it suffered an ignominious defeat in the European Parliament last year. Sadly, it looks like he has learned nothing from the experience:
George Monbiot, in his article on the negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, claims the European commission has tried to "keep this process quiet" (Chickens in chlorine? It's what free trade's about, 3 December). This is laughable. Every step of these negotiations has been publicly announced and widely reported in the press. The commission has regularly consulted a broad range of civil society organisations in writing and in person, and our most recent meeting had 350 participants from trade unions, NGOs and business.
It's true, every step of the negotiations has indeed been announced, but only in terms of what was happening when -- hardly very informative. What people want to know is what is being said during those negotiations, and very little of that has been released. They would also like the opportunity to provide their views on the subject, and to be listened to. It's not clear who those "350 participants" mentioned above might include, or what the exact breakdown of numbers is. What we do know is that of 130 "meetings with stakeholders" that took place earlier this year, 119 of them were with large corporates and their lobbyists.

Here's an interesting point raised by De Gucht:

no agreement will become law before it is thoroughly examined and signed off by the European parliament and 29 democratically elected national governments -- the US government and 28 in the EU's council.
I've not seen this misdirection before, but I'm sure we will in future. It seeks to convey the idea that nothing is final, and that the European Parliament will be able to examine and approve the agreement before it is ratified. Strictly speaking, that's true -- with two important caveats. First, that the European Parliament cannot change a single comma of the agreement that is presented to it, whatever horrors it finds there. And secondly, the "signing off" is all or nothing: either it accepts everything, or rejects it. Given the exaggerated claims about the agreement's benefits, the European Parliament will be under huge pressure not to reject it, even if it contains a truly awful chapter on corporate sovereignty, for example.

On the subject of supposed benefits, De Gucht of course trots out the big numbers:

we do not take Monbiot's extreme view that investment protection agreements (IPAs) are "toxic" attempts to put monster corporations in charge of our destinies. His exaggerated fears are no reason to abandon a deal with the US that could create £100bn in new growth for Europe.
No justification for refusing to recognize that ISDS places corporations above nations is offered, just a dogmatic statement. But it's worth remembering that the £100 billion -- which comes from the €119 billion figure in the European Commission's report -- is for 2027, is the best-case figure, and is anyway unlikely to be achieved. That's because it assumes massive deregulation of health and safety standards that will to be too much even for a European Parliament under pressure to accept the deal.

There then follows this comment from De Gucht:

(Contrary to Monbiot's claims, the economic impact of free trade agreements has been positive. For example, Europe's agreement with South Korea has seen our exports rise by 24% in its first two years.)
Monbiot was quoting figures Techdirt used earlier this year in the context of NAFTA and KORUS. I find it interesting that De Gucht underlines the success of the agreement with South Korea. That also applies to investments: according to the European Commission's own site on the agreement with South Korea, "European companies are the largest investors in South Korea." And yet it turns out that there are no corporate sovereignty provisions in the agreement: it would seem that even without them, European companies are perfectly happy to make significant investments in South Korea, so why does the European Commission insist ISDS must be a part of TAFTA/TTIP?

Here's De Gucht's only attempt at a justification:

In reality, these IPAs [investment protection agreements] protect job- creating investment from discrimination and unfair treatment. The UK has benefited, with 15 British companies launching cases under investment agreements in the last five years.
Well, let's look at the most recent of those cases, as listed in the annual report on ISDS published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. In 2012, UK companies concluded corporate sovereignty cases against the following nations: Argentina, Tanzania and Hungary. New ones were begun against Hungary, Indonesia, Pakistan and Uganda. That's pretty much as you'd expect: most cases were brought against governments in emerging economies where UK companies might be concerned about the judicial systems (whether or not that concern was justified is another matter.)

But those cases have no bearing on TAFTA/TTIP, which is purely between the US and EU, and therefore involves only the judicial systems of those two areas. Nobody could seriously claim that investors will fail to receive fair hearings in either, so De Gucht's invocation of other corporate sovereignty cases elsewhere is simply irrelevant.

He concludes by making some striking assertions:

EU investment agreements will explicitly state that legitimate government public policy decisions -- on issues such as the balance between public and private provision of healthcare or "the European ban on chicken carcasses washed with chlorine" -- cannot be over-ridden. We will crack down on companies using legal technicalities to build frivolous cases against governments. We will open up investment tribunals to public scrutiny -- documents will be public and interested parties, including NGOs, will be able to make submissions. Finally, we will eliminate any conflicts of interest -- the arbitrators who decide on EU cases must be above suspicion.
Of course, what he omits to mention here is that the EU is in no position unilaterally to insist: these things will only happen if the US agrees to them, and that seems highly unlikely, especially on transparency matters, where the US has shown itself completely unwilling to open up. Indeed, implicitly claiming that he will force the US to accept these conditions as part of the deal will make it more unlikely that it agrees to them.

De Gucht ends his assault on Monbiot with this stern admonition:

We should focus on the facts.
We should indeed, because they show quite clearly that the economic benefits of TAFTA/TTIP are likely to be extremely modest. They're certainly not worth the price to be paid in terms of loss of national sovereignty as a result of ISDS, or the enhanced corporate control of regulation on both sides of the Atlantic, recently revealed in the latest leak about the negotiations, which remain as secret and undemocratic as ever, despite claims by De Gucht to the contrary.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    That One Guy (profile), Dec 18th, 2013 @ 10:19pm

    'We should focus on the facts.'

    Yeah, about that, kinda hard to do so when the 'facts' have been kept secret for the entire 'negotiations', and the only reason those outside of the few involved in negotiations know a thing regarding the treaties is due to leaks of documents.

    I get the feeling that while he says people should focus on the 'facts', what he really means is that they should focus on whatever PR has been released, regardless of how little such PR has to do with what's actually in the agreements.

     

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    Cpt Feathersword, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 12:22am

    Who shall decide which government public policy decisions are illegitimate?

    Who will "crack down on companies using legal technicalities to build frivolous cases against governments," and how will this cracking-down be accomplished?

    One suspects that De Gucht makes promises he cannot keep.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Dec 19th, 2013 @ 12:29am

      Re: Who shall decide which government public policy decisions are illegitimate?

      Why the 'impartial' arbitration court of course, you know, the one that already has no problem declaring that a country's laws and regulations have no business getting in the way of profit. /s

       

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    Shaun, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 1:14am

    sometimes...

    there's a really dark part of me that wants them to have their way. sign up for ALL the agreements.

    then fast forward 10-20 years.

    But i shudder to think of the consequences.

     

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      silverscarcat (profile), Dec 19th, 2013 @ 1:23am

      Re: sometimes...

      If I had access to Doc Brown's time machine, we could go 10-20 years into the future and see what would happen if they were signed.

       

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        The Wanderer (profile), Jan 6th, 2014 @ 6:20pm

        Re: Re: sometimes...

        Or a simulation/extrapolation system like the one in the old text adventure "A Mind Forever Voyaging".

        That's worth playing through for its political/economic commentary, by the way, even at this fairly distant remove.

         

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      That One Guy (profile), Dec 19th, 2013 @ 3:54am

      Re: sometimes...

      Let them have everything they want? Yeah, that would be a disaster of global proportions.

      Another global recession, corporations writing the laws and using the police and courts to enforce them(more so than currently), prison populations across the world rising to the level of the US's now, the utter death of creativity as smaller companies would be too terrified of doing anything lest they get sued out of existence and larger companies maintain their profits by making it illegal not to give them money, the internet would be turned into something worse than tv is now, as every site that had user created/submitted content would be shut down or sued into bankruptcy, massive numbers of otherwise preventable deaths as the generic drug market it decimated and replaced with insanely high price drugs...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 1:55am

    de Gucht is the arse hole that was responsible for trying to force ACTA through in the EU. thank fuck that was stopped! he's also the arse hole who has had secret negotiations with Hollywood and the USA entertainment industries representatives. we can all guess exactly what those talks were all about!
    what really pisses me off about him and others like him is that they are supposed to represent the people of certain areas. i appreciate that industries, corporations etc have to be represented too but they should not be solely represented at the expense of the people.

    yet again, another 'Trade Deal' instigated by the USA and which will greatly benefit the USA and it's industries while screwing over everyone else, everywhere else! i wouldn't mind betting he is the one that has reintroduced all the ACTA parts back into this one sided effort! this guy in particular needs replacing! he can be interested only in lining his own pockets, because nothing he has been involved in so far has been for the benefit of the EU and it's people!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 2:02am

    Dont worry, Poland will save us again.

     

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    Gabriel J. Michael (profile), Dec 19th, 2013 @ 2:09am

    In the US, the best way to fight TTIP/TAFTA is to call your congresspeople

    In the US, the best way to fight TTIP/TAFTA is to call your congresspeople.

    Tell them you will vote them out if they approve "fast track" (trade promotion authority) for Obama. Tell them that if they vote for fast track, you will see it as them abdicating their Congressional authority, responsibility, and duty, and that you will make sure come election time that someone who takes their job seriously will be replacing them.

    If their staffers drone on about the purported economic benefits of the deal, point out that since nothing has been finalized, and indeed nothing substantive has even been shared with the public, there is zero evidence to support such claims. It is all hot air. And if it is really true, there should be no reason to hide it from the public.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 3:04am

    De Gucht is unfortunately pushing a wagon he cannot control. The promises in the last paragraph that will be circumvented should on their own kill the deal, but as soon as we get closer to the final deal, the narrative will change and the specific formulations that clearly do not carry the same meaning will be called "the formulation we could agree on" in the holy name of "necessitys policy".

    That De Gucht will be unable to see this treaty through is only making things worse since whoever takes over, will have to accept his work, without knowing the horses he has traded behind the double closed doors to reach the final formulations...

     

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    ECA (profile), Dec 19th, 2013 @ 4:37am

    EXPLAIN THIS..

    "abandon a deal with the US that could create 100bn in new growth for Europe."

    HOW do you make GROWTH?
    In an Import/EXPORT the only growth is for those HANDLING the goods.
    WHAT? they are going to send us WOOL? food? WHAT?
    For THEM to have growth, they would need to make JOBS..

    "That's because it assumes massive deregulation of health and safety standards that will to be too much even for a European Parliament under pressure to accept the deal."

    YEP, we get to send all our GMO foods and OVER processed goods to them. Thats NOT JOBS for them. thats not even JOBS for us..

    "Europe's agreement with South Korea has seen our exports rise by 24% in its first two years."

    WHAT can you sell in S. Korea?
    You sell to the RICH FOLKS.. The ONEs that have money.
    You MAKE investments..(a way to hide that you created a company for IMPORT/EXPORT and even some manufacturing, that GETS SENT BACK to the EU..)
    We do the same with CHINA..we send them WOOD, they send us products for IKEA..
    And you REALLY have to wonder, if all the EXTRA transport of OVER PRICED WOOD, SHIPPING, LOADING handling is worth it?
    Think of all the JOBS we would have, if we DID THE WORK HERE..

    "IPAs [investment protection agreements] protect job- creating investment from discrimination and unfair treatment."
    Understand this..IT PROTECTS INVESTORS...NOT YOU..

    Something to see..Iv talked to truckers in the USA about this, and its Funny.
    CORPS make money by making it disappear, or seem like it. THEY MAKE MONEY by HANDLING the goods back and forth..Adding CHARGES..
    A package of food, starts HERE, ALREADY packaged and ready..is SHIPPEd 3-4 states over, RE-PACKAGED with a BIG corp name, then shipped to distributors, then to stores..and costs $1 per pound EXTRA.
    Lumber from the East is SENT to the WEST, after going over the Canada Border, 1-2 times, to Incur CHARGES and raise prices.. 1 lumber yard was told to check with a local lumberman, and found he could get it DIRECT from him for 50% LESS..

    NOW do you want to go into MARKUPS at the store? and HOW poor you really are?

    Remember, CORPS know how much is in your pocket..
    THEY PAID YOU. And they want it back..

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 4:38am

    I get it, it is Christmas time, a magical time were people open their minds to the possibilities so why not make up some nice stories to make bad things go away am I right?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 5:23am

    "Panic spreads through the European commission like ferrets in a rabbit warren"

    Via context I figured I knew what a rabbit warren is but wanted to confirm, so I searched on rabbit warren definition. Goog search has really nose dived.

    Anyways ... a better analogy might be
    "spreads like the T virus through major metropolitan areas"

     

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    quawonk, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 5:45am

    There is nothing secret. It exists solely to give corporations more power and more money since they can never have enough of either. We've known this for quite some time. The only secret is the specific details.

     

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    I'm_Having_None_Of_It, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 6:08am

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
    Or close the wall up with our English/European/American dead.


    Get out there AGAIN and write to/call/email your MEPs, my friends, the game's afoot. AGAIN. And we will beat them. AGAIN.

    When we fought ACTA, I went around handing out home-made leaflets to people in the street and pleaded with them to contact their MEPs and ask them to vote no. I'll do it again if I have to, just let me know when.

    What do you think the for/against ratio in the European Parliament will be this time? I want to see Mr. de Gucht with a face like a slapped arse after the votes have been counted. AGAIN.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 8:33am

    If this deal is so great, why is it being negotiated in secret?

     

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