Architecture is an expression of values. Norman Foster

To Free, Or Not To Free

A Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could kick-start our stagnating economies. But at what cost?

Last week the second negotiation-period between the EU Commission and the USA took place in order to agree upon the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP)”. The policy-makers want to conclude the negotiations within the next two years in order to establish the world’s largest free-trade area. This sounds quite good, so what is the problem?

1) Social and ecological standards are endangered
It has taken Europeans a long time to establish EU-wide regulations to ensure that the free market is guided by social and environmental standards. There has been a long battle around the regulation of chemical substances (REACH). Standards in the EU are far from being perfect, and unfortunately many things are not yet standardized on a European-level. And yet, the US wants some of the European standards to be removed. The banning of Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs) is one of the regulations that the Americans want to get rid of. The new regulations of the treaty would be made without taking into consideration the existing ones.

2) There is no transparency
This is how the negotiations look like: The EU Commission talks to the US authorities, but what they are talking about stays secret. We, the civil society, need to know what is being discussed in order to be able to express concrete criticism. Only seeing the result of a two-year process is not sufficient. It will merely allow for remarks, but not for criticism of the principles of the agreement or even new suggestions. Therefore, parliamentarians and civil society should also be invited to the talks.

3) Our current global trade system will suffer
From a geopolitical point of view, the whole agreement can be seen as an attempt to create a counterbalance against increasingly powerful China. TTIP would mean that a trade-super power emerges that will be able to dictate global standards of trade.
There are currently institutions to take care of global trade and possess dispute settlement structures. The World Trade Organization (WTO) may be a bad example but it still has more legitimacy than the two trading blocks. In the WTO, every country has one vote and one veto.

4) Taking away the sovereignty of the people
There might be investor-state settlement agreements build into the TTIP. Such agreements give companies the right to sue states for their environmental and social regulations before international arbitration bodies. In case an investor looses profit through regulations, he can sue the state. Such agreements violate the basic democratic principles. Companies would not need to use the internal juridical systems of a country, but can use external non-democratic arbitrator-courts. It would also cause “chilling effects”. States are less likely to engage in social or ecological regulation if they can be sued and hence regulations are very likely to significantly decrease.

Most actors involved in the TTIP process only stress the positive aspects of the debate, but there are many negative sides as well. It will badly affect social and ecological standards, it is not transparent, and it contributes to the establishment of an even more unjust global trading system. On top of that, the investor-state agreements take away the sovereign rights from the people. There are already multilateral agreements for global trade. We must ask the question whether or not we actually need this new treaty.

*This article was co-authored by Theresa Kalmer

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