Imagine this scenario: You’re at home, doing your thing. The doorbell rings and it’s a drug dealer who is new to the neighbourhood, he politely introduces himself and asks if it is ok to sell heroin to your children. You, quite rightly, tell him to do one. Let’s then say that he comes back half an hour later with a policeman who orders you to let him or face arrest.
A pretty ridiculous scenario but it illustrates a point. Let’s try another one.
How about the companies who made CFC’s, filing legal action against those who signed the Montreal Protocol banning their use after it was discovered that they were causing the degradation of the ozone layer?
Or tobacco companies suing the British government for loss of earnings after smoking in enclosed public spaces was banned?
Obviously the first example is an allegory used to make a point in a way that has an impact. The second two examples would be entirely possible under the best kept secret in modern politics – the TTIP.
The Tran-Atlantic Trade Partnership is a fairly benevolent name. Trade? Good. Investment? Good. Partnership? Good. Surely these are all things that promote business and that has to be good for the country, besides those nice chaps in Westminster surely wouldn’t allow anything unfair to happen to us…
There are several large trade agreements being negotiated, TTIP is the one that covers American corporation’s interaction with their European counterparts. Think of it like a great big American business love-in. And we’re the ones who are getting fucked. Where governments are willing to talk about these agreements they are described as being designed to remove barriers to commerce; to you and I that means the regulations that are in place to protect our health, our jobs and our environment.
The beauty of these agreements (from the corporate perspective) is that they are soul crushingly, ball achingly boring. This is a deliberate tactic that I’ve christened greyspeak – the art of boring the shit out everyone while squeezing their collective balls. If these agreements were people they would be the colourless weirdo who sits at the end of the bar sipping a pint of pale ale and making women feel uncomfortable. Even the names are boring: TTIP, TPP, CETA; they sound like strains of chlamydia, but without the associated personality. And this is why they are so powerful. They are peppered with phrases that have as much inherent stimulus as a traffic jam on the M25, What I’m thinking is that by deconstructing some of this crap we can actually see what it means to us; not as some abstract, formless version of society. To us, as individuals.
First up is regulatory convergence. Before your mouse starts to hover towards the tab for youtube and the inevitable video of a cat falling off a bed, remember: the bastards who wrote this did so to bore us. So, regulatory convergence. The EU and the USA have very different standards of regulations, one thing that this agreement wants to do is get us singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet in order to make it easier to do business. Let’s say that a product on sale in the US contains a substance that the EU has banned. That product can’t be sold here at present but if our regulations were brought into line it could. Surely more products being available is a good thing and they can’t be that bad if they’re allowed in America, right? Hmm… A study conducted by America’s FDA (Food and Drug Administration) found that 400 lipsticks available on the American market contain lead. Lead poisoning can be responsible for such joys as nerve disorders, birth defects and behavioural issues in children. In fact, lead poisoning has been linked to a drop in violent crime since it was banned as an additive in petrol. The FDA’s website states: “Cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to undergo approval before they are sold. Manufacturers can use any ingredient, except for 10 prohibited substances, without government review.’ In Europe nearly 1200 toxic chemicals are banned from cosmetics. If you still think this is boring try having to study the list of ingredients on a stick of lippy so that you don’t give your kids ADHD along with a kiss goodnight.
I’ve often watched American TV programmes and wondered what it would be like to not have our NHS. She’s like a senile next door neighbour, irritating and decrepit at times but, my balls, we love her. And we should, without an NHS we all get stuck with a big, fat health insurance payment each month instead of our paltry national insurance contributions. Even worse, you could become ill and, as a result, no longer insurable, meaning crippling medical bills that your children will be paying for you long after you’re fertilising daisies. Would Sir like a financial crisis and impending homelessness to add to his cancer? The government has said that it would do all it can to protect the NHS under this agreement but they won’t manage it for long, because of the next little gem…
Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS for short. Another chirpy little phrase that means sod all to anyone who hasn’t looked into this. This is what lies at the heart of TTIP: the right of a corporation to sue a sovereign government for any action that limits their future earnings. Remember the tobacco companies and the Montreal Protocol from earlier? This is where these examples come in. Since the 1980’s the NHS has been increasingly ‘marketised.’ Essentially an internal market was introduced within the NHS where different bodies became either purchasers or providers of services and had to behave like businesses in a marketplace. Successive governments (can’t always blame the Tories) have increasingly made the NHS more and more like a business through, in part, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and its S75 regulations. These have brought about a kind of quasi- privatisation of health care that would leave the NHS vulnerable if American companies decide to test the legal water of that area of business. ISDS would be heard by kangaroo courts of international lawyers who have no responsibility towards us and any proceedings would be likely to be held behind closed doors and information protected by commercial secrets law. This nasty little mechanism could be used in a frightening range of ways to erode our choices and our government’s power to protect us. Bans on toxic products could be over turned, environmental decisions by governments reversed. As voters we have some token kind of control over our democracy; this removes our government’s ability to protect us from the worst ravages of capitalism.
Obviously I am skimming through some quick points here. My aim is not describe in full the TTIP or even provide an outline. My aim is to spread the word and help resistance to this gather momentum. We can’t change this. There will be no referendum, no vote and a Labour government would be just as likely to pursue it as a Tory one, but through public pressure we can change the way it is dealt with. We can insist on transparency, we can insist that our institutions are protected and we can insist that a faceless court will not have the final say over things that affect our daily lives. If you’ve made it to the bottom then I’m guessing you’re interested so please visit these links for further information.
You can sign this petition: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/vince-cable-fix-ttip#petition
Visit this site and watch the interview with Linda Kaucher: http://stopttip.net/
Read this George Monbiot article: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/03/10/all-give-and-no-take/