TPP, TTIP And CETA Are Disasters For The Public: Are There Better Ways To Do Trade Deals?

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.
Similarly:
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.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 4:35am

    Were any of these really needed?

    With Trump and Brexit maybe putting a dagger in these kinds of deals for a while, maybe it is time to determine if they were ever needed in the first place?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 4:54am

      Re: Were any of these really needed?

      Of course they are needed, how else are the negotiators to earn a living, and the politicians justify junkets to foreign resorts?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 6:08am

      Re: Were any of these really needed?

      There is still a little bit of Free trade potential out there that is completely reasonable to try to squeaze out. Free trade is not the problem in these deals and Trumps tarriffs are not the answer.

      The problems are in legislative and judicial/jurisdictional changes/restrictions getting through with no/little national or democratic debate (the current mandates are laughably broad and lacks any teeth.
      No politician with any international ambitions would vote down the end-result, without having a history of warning before the end of the negotiations.
      Thus killing a treaty gone astray from democratic side is near impossible.
      The result is thus an incredible power left in the hands of negotiators and business representatives).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: Were any of these really needed?

        "Thus killing a treaty gone astray from democratic side is near impossible."

        One of the examples of how a democracy commits suicide. If you really want a democracy make the best of it and do yourself in before your vote has a chance to do several others in along with you!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 5:10am

    "puts people and planet before big business."

    Blasphemy! says supply side jesus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 9 Dec 2016 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      Indeed. We can't be having all that hippy liberal socialist democracy nonsense. Respect your elders and betters, by which I mean "Our glorious corporate masters." Just blindly obey them, whatever happens. They say these agreements are in our best interests, after all, and that what is good for them is therefore good for us.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TomZ (profile), 8 Dec 2016 @ 5:34am

    The 29 signatories (pdf) are all European academics, and they include the well-known economist Thomas Piketty,...

    And with the inclusion of this trendy ill-informed clown, all of my support is lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 5:46am

      Re:

      Do you not have the ability to evaluate the arguments, and not the just go on what you think of one of the signers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 5:47am

        Re: Re:

        Some people are like that - weird.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 6:38am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Some? Try MOST!

          It's the literal life blood of political party systems. If you sat down every American and made them take a test on how they would solve specific problems they would be SHOCKED to find out how close they are to their most hated politicians.

          Rhetoric is a red herring in politics and far too many let it get their billy goats!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 6:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Seems the only "specific problems" being solved in politics is the perceived lack of money in said politicians pocket.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 7:04am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Exactly, the idea is to turn everyone into a slave to the system with shackles that do not look or feel like shackles.

              The more you can keep people at each others throats the less likely they are to notice the politicians playing them "like a harp from hell!"

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 6:39am

        Re: Re:

        To be fair, Pikketty is not the most left-leaning in that group. There is a distinct lack of more centralist or right wing voices politically in that group.

        When that is said the commission has "recognised" the declaration as "constructive" and "agrees with the focus on more transparency" (no surprise given Malmstroems ealier voiced opinions). But a focus on reducing the scope of trade negotiations in the proposed way is urealistic to get european right and far right parties on board as well as the current commission des horribles.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          trollificus (profile), 8 Dec 2016 @ 7:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "...lack of more centralist or right wing voices"...

          Yeah, that ought to be considered problematic since the "...seismic political developments" referenced in the article were caused by the huge, underrepresented mass of unannointed plebes whose fervent desire is to bail on the One World project as currently constituted. And said academics are all down with the project, just not the part where a few people get insanely rich.

          Those of us (on both sides of the Atlantic) who have little desire to emulate the success of socialism in, say, Venezuela, don't even mind if globalism lifts the prosperity of people in the Third World (which it has). What we DON'T want is more centralized decision-making enforced through a panopticon state. Which the socialists don't seem to mind at all as long as they are given ever more power to "do good".

          F. That. When the people forgo a competent well-meaning president to elect a giant orange middle finger directed right at you...pay attention!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 8:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "F. That. When the people forgo a competent well-meaning president to elect a giant orange middle finger directed right at you...pay attention!"

            This should be modded insightful.

            Far too many people on the left just are not getting this at all... and I mean not getting it with a level of stupid that is astounding. Nancy Pelosi and the old guard that helped ensure a Trump victory remain in power.

            The Republicans received a hefty rebuke on this as well since Trump's candidacy caused major rifts which sadly seem to be healing and they shouldn't. Trumps win was against a status quo that infects both the Dems and the Reps like a nasty virus!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Thad, 8 Dec 2016 @ 10:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Far too many people on the left just are not getting this at all... and I mean not getting it with a level of stupid that is astounding. Nancy Pelosi and the old guard that helped ensure a Trump victory remain in power.

              I think this suggests a pretty big disconnect between the Democratic Party and Democratic voters. (As does Sanders's unexpectedly good performance in the primaries.)

              That said, if I were to describe the establishment Democrats presenting the biggest problems for the party's future, Pelosi wouldn't be near the top of the list.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 9 Dec 2016 @ 6:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Erm, trollificus, RE: globalism lifts the prosperity of people in the Third World...

            I've confirmed with economist blogger Noah Smith that for the most part the "prosperity" is measured by adding all the money together, dividing it by the number of people, and saying, "Thanks, capitalism!" Poverty is still a massive problem in which millions of people don't have access to housing, clean water, and regular meals, much less education and transport. Saying, "But they've got mobile phones!" doesn't address that, it's the equivalent of "Squirrel!"

            Globalism may be making some people richer but inequality is still a massive problem.

            **What we DON'T want is more centralized decision-making enforced through a panopticon state. Which the socialists don't seem to mind at all as long as they are given ever more power to "do good".**

            That is not a partisan thing, though ideas of "doing good" vary according to one's political philosophy.

            While I'm not a huge fan of ideology per se I do believe that taking a community-first approach to policy-making that balances the needs of the public with personal freedom is the most beneficial to the greatest number of people. Any approach that prizes collectivism over individualism or vice versa will create an imbalance that ultimately thwarts their stated aims.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Eric Zuesse, 8 Dec 2016 @ 7:17am

    Namur's failure

    The requirement to "include transparency guarantees and an appeal mechanism ensuring the consistency of decisions" is ignoring what's of central importance: No legal provision or action that is outside (or excluded from adjudication in accordance with) a given nation's Constitution and laws is valid within that nation.

    In other words: There exists no higher sovereignty than national sovereignty, and so all participants in any international treaty are valid only to the extent that the process by which they became participants was fully in accord with that nation's Constitution and laws.

    The only other forms of sovereignty are state and local governments; there is no such thing as corporate sovereignty. Corporations are entities that are subject to the laws (and sovereignties) of the governments wherever those corporations are allowed (by those respective governments) to function.

    This also means that no investor possesses any legal right that is above or transcends the rights that all citizens possess; the era of the public's consisting of "subjects" is past; the public consists now of citizens -- no longer of subjects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 7:35am

    Duh! How about a little transparency?

    Back room deals will ***always*** screw the little guy.

    The old DC saying: "If you aren't at the table, you're on the menu".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 11:33am

      Re: Duh! How about a little transparency?

      "If you aren't at the table, you're on the menu".

      Never heard that one before, but is a damn fine line!

      I will be adding it to my repertoire!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 8 Dec 2016 @ 7:47am

    The trade part of the trade deals are fine. The problem is all the stuff that is bundled in because everyone knows they have no change of passing (likely on *any* side of the agreement) otherwise.

    The trade deals lately are nothing but vehicles for corruption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 9:52am

    'TPP, TTIP And CETA Are Disasters For The Public: Are There Better Ways To Do Trade Deals?'

    most definitely! the first step would be to leave out of the discussions the entertainment industries in all forms as they are only interested in ensuring they dont have to change business models, maintain and increase profit levels and NOT join the digital age. next step would be to ensure that ALL discussions are open and transparent, with representation from the public and from groups representing the public over freedom, security and freedom of speech issues. the 3rd step that there are no 'private talks' carried on between those involved with the Trade Deals and private bodies or their representatives that want nothing other than to better their own position at the detriment of the public!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 8 Dec 2016 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      I realize this is Techdirt, but I wouldn't say that locking the entertainment industries out of the room is the first step in getting better trade deals. I have no love for their luddism, but there are much worse things than copyright overreach, and much worse industries than the media conglomerates.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 8 Dec 2016 @ 2:32pm

        Re: Re:

        In terms of corruption, there might be worse industries, but they are going to pretty damn high up on the list. There aren't many industries that have got as complete a hold on regulation as these guys do. Even the banks and oil companies get reigned in once in a while. The media conglomerates have pretty much evolved to the point where regulatory capture is their business.

        Copyright overreach stifles progress, so it's net drain on should be exponential over time as the gains from that progress fail to feed further progress but will be impossible to measure since we won't have any way of knowing how much progress we would have made if we didn't have the breaks on. I would put it very high on the "should fix" list.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2016 @ 1:08am

        Re: Re:

        The entertainment and media industries are a big danger to society because if they get their way they will be the gatekeepers for everything that is published. No political comment without their approval, and no access to human knowledge without paying them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew Pam, 8 Dec 2016 @ 3:42pm

    Internet Governance Forum

    Thanks for this article. I've just raised the Namur Declaration at the "Trade Agreements and the Internet" session of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum, currently in session in Mexico. The Brussels Declaration was also mentioned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2016 @ 5:27pm

    The government being open about the trade deals would probably help a lot. What is the government keeps saying to us? If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear? Doesn't apply to trade deals I presume.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 Dec 2016 @ 1:54am

    A sensible treat that favors people and the environment? Maybe when humanity goes extinct due to environmental collapse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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