By Owen Tudor
The UK media this weekend has reported the death of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU-US so-called trade deal which – as Buzzfeed reported this week – would legalise corporate malfeasance and profiteering by including a discredited Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. But, as with Mark Twain, rumours of TTIP’s death are exaggerated. And the reason for its death being faked is to smuggle a similarly bad so-called trade deal with Canada through.
The announcement of the ‘death’ of TTIP was made by Sigmar Gabriel, Angela Merkel’s deputy in the German government, and leader of the social democratic SPD which is in coalition with Merkel’s Christian democrats. Gabriel, who is economic affairs minister as well as vice-chancellor, said that:
“In my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it.”
But why would such an erstwhile supporter of the sort of free trade deals which have given globalisation such a bad name be willing to admit defeat so publicly? The answer is that he is trying to smuggle through the much more advanced Canada-EU deal known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), without anyone noticing.
CETA contains very similar threats to those in TTIP. It contains a slightly watered down version of ISDS, called the Investment Court System (ICS), which is itself an attempt to smuggle the main principles (and threats) of ISDS past a sceptical European Parliament and a hostile European citizenry. Its market access provisions would threaten public services and block possible renationalisations, and its provisions on workers’ rights would threaten abusers with nothing but a strongly worded committee report, as opposed to the billion-dollar fines involved in ISDS or ICS.
On 19 September, an SPD convention will consider whether to back Sigmar Gabriel’s support for CETA. German unions and the SPD left are opposed to both CETA and TTIP, and there will be demonstrations against both across Germany between now and the party convention. Gabriel is banking on TTIP being more unpopular than CETA because it’s better known and because the US has a worse reputation for capitalist greed than Canada (especially now that the radical shine has come off US President Obama, but relatively new Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau is still untainted). By pronouncing the death of TTIP, Gabriel is hoping to persuade his party to back CETA (after which TTIP would, no doubt, rise zombie-like from its fictitious grave.)
This trick seems to be working in the UK, where many media reports focus solely on TTIP (even in their coverage this weekend of the Gabriel pronouncement) and where even campaign groups like 38 Degrees who have been forthright opponents of TTIP have failed to appreciate that CETA – dubbed by the TUC as TTIP’s dangerous cousin – poses the same threats, will arrive sooner, and actually provides rapacious US corporations which mostly exist in Canada too with all that TTIP would offer them in terms of access to UK public services and investment protection payouts.
But there’s less evidence that the trick will work where Gabriel needs it to: in his own party convention next month. Meanwhile the TUC’s campaign against CETA, which will be voted on in the European Parliament this Autumn, will be stepping up a gear too.