Published from The Ecologist
EU and US resume their negotiations next week over the TTIP trade and investment deal. But deep rifts have emerged over the corporate courts in which investors can sue governments for any actions that reduce their profits. Meanwhile MPs are seething over their restricted access to draft texts and negotiating documents.
Rather than kowtowing to the corporations, ministers should trust the British public to have a say on this issue by opening up the entire TTIP negotiating texts to real democratic scrutiny.
The 12th round of negotiations for the proposed TTIP trade deal between the EU and the USA are due to start in Brussels on Monday.
But chances of success are looking remote – much to the relief of civil society on both sides of the Atlantic. The two parties look increasingly at odds over the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms – one of the main planks of the negotiations.
ISDS and its ‘corporate courts’ are seen, especially by the US, as integral to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. But it now looks like they could sink the deal altogether. A White House official recently admitted that the deal was unlikely to be reached while President Obama was still in office.
These investment provisions would enable corporations to sue governments in secretive, supra-judicial courts for bringing about legislation that would harm their profits.
Other contentious aspects of the deal include ‘regulatory cooperation’, the principle that regulations on either side of the Atlantic will be recognised even if, in fact, they are much weaker on one side than on the other. This would force down standards for health, safety, labour and environment in the EU and the US to the lowest applicable level.
Conducted in secret (but not for lobbyists)
Elected representatives are reduced to the status of the proverbial ‘three monkeys’ by security rules forbidding disclosure of TTIP texts. Photo: Len “Doc” Radin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)
Also causing immense anger to elected representatives in national, state and EU parliaments has been the secrecy under the negotiations have been veiled.
The TTIP negotiating documents have been subjected to extreme levels of secrecy, leading to widespread criticism from both civil society and MEPs. In 2015 Green MEP Molly Scott Cato decried the extreme security lengths she had to endure to access the reading room that had been set up in Brussels.
Now the UK government has announced its plans to open a special ‘TTIP reading room’ where MPs will be able to read the negotiating texts. The announcement was made in response to a written parliamentary question by Caroline Lucas MP, in advance of the resuming negotiations.
In her response Trade Minister Anna Soubry stated: “Restrictions placed on these rooms include that they are only accessible to officials of Member State central governments and Members of Member State national Parliaments. The UK intends to establish such a reading room in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.”
In addition MPs will only be allowed to enter the room with pencil and paper to make notes. They will have to sign a confidentiality agreement forbidding them to disclose any paert of the texts to other parties including their constituents. The text as a whole will remain behind lock and key.
By contrast, corporations and corporate lobbyists have enjoyed privileged access to the negotiators and negotiating documents throughout the TTIP process and have been intimately involved with drafting the developing texts.
Caroline Lucas: ‘open TTIP up to public scrutiny!’
“The good news is that the government has finally conceded that MPs are going to get sight of this hugely significant trade deal before being asked to vote on it”, commented Lucas. “But the bad news is that a cloak of secrecy still surrounds TTIP.
“If the same rules apply here in the UK as they do in Brussels – which is what the minister is implying – then MPs will be bound by a confidentiality agreement if they want to see the text. This opaque process – which shuts citizens out of this crucial debate – is profoundly undemocratic.
“Rather than kowtowing to the corporations, ministers should trust the British public to have a say on this issue by opening it up to real democratic scrutiny.”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “Given the extent of the impact that TTIP would have on our public services, our consumer standards and our democracy, it’s astounding that MPs still haven’t been able to look at all at the negotiating texts.
“While the opening of this reading room is an opportunity for MPs to see for themselves the extent of the corporate power grab under TTIP, there are still big questions as to whether or not they will have any say whatsoever as to the contents of the toxic trade deal, or if it will simply get voted on in Brussels.
“It’s deplorable that MPs will have to sign confidentiality documents in order to see documents in a guarded room. This effects all of us – and should be open to all of us. We think the fact that it’s not speaks volumes about TTIP.”
German MP Katja Kipping likewise wrote of her frustrating experience of accessing the texts in a similar reading room in Germany’s parliament, observing that she had “read nothing that would lead me to reconsider my previous criticism that consumer protection plays no part in TTIP.”
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