Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Revisited

The TTIP is a series of trade negotiations, being carried out mostly in secret, between the EU and US apparatchiks, acting for Trans-National Corporations (TNCs), intended to reduce the regulatory barriers to trade on big business. The powers being negotiated include the sovereign powers of individual nations which might be used to protect entities involved in such as the provision of education and health.

Six widely expressed objections are:
1. It threatens privatisation of the NHS
2. It will impose laxer US food regulations on the EU, eg allowing GM foods in EU
3. It will impose London’s lax banking regulation on the rest
4. It threatens to reduce personal data privacy (eg Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – ACTA being brought back by the back door having been democratically rejected in EU)
5. It will cause job losses as lower US labour standards and trade union rights applied in EU
6. It is anti-democratic – the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arrangements, which are part of TTIP, will enable TNCs to sue governments if their policies cause loss of profits.

With TTIP being negotiated in secret, people do not have the opportunity to debate and vote. Once implemented, it will be extremely difficult to undo.

But it is much worse than that.

The power of TNCs to control our lives has long been argued, but a 2011 study [Vitali et al, ‘The network of global corporate control’, New Scientist, 19.9.11] reported that “So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally”. So the debate had been ideological eg between the Occupy movement and the ‘free market – open access’ ideologues. Vitali’s was the first serious piece of quantitative research based on a database of 37m companies and investors worldwide, which included all 43,060 TNCs. They identified a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships which controlled 60% of global revenues. Of those, 147 controlled 40% of global wealth, most of them financial entities. And that degree of concentration of the power and wealth of the few, has got considerably worse since 2011.

A year ago, the Financial Times reported on some of the 147: “between 2009 and 2013 the 12 global bankers paid out £105.4bn worth of fines to European and US regulators for crimes ranging from mis-selling of mortgages, to rigging the Libor index of interbank lending rates.” [Tett, ‘Penalise the banks but use the money well’, Financial Times, 14.11.15]. They had also been fined for rigging the Forex market, as well as rigging various commodity markets, also for money laundering on behalf of various terrorist organisations and for Mexican drug cartels, not to mention tax evasion and the most energetic avoidance. The FT also reported that those 12 banks had also made additional provisions in their accounts for a further £61.23bn of anticipated fines for crimes which presumably they knew all about, but which had not yet been uncovered. So a total of £167bn, well over 1.5 times the then annual cost of the NHS, and which the FT described as “eye popping” at the same time pointing out that £167bn was “unlikely to be the final hit.”

Not only is that £167 billion of fraud not the whole story for the 12 global banks. Most other banks have been at it too. As have pretty well the whole of the financial sector, and a great many global corporates in other sectors as well. Moreover would be monopolists, eg the big six energy providers, big four auditors, and big four public services companies, have also been exploiting their power to the maximum – most mature industries are now dominated by monopolistic predators, that are not particularly competent (remember G4S’s Olympic fiasco) but ready, willing and able to rip off their customers. The business and financial world seems to have become mired in what even The Economist described as “a culture of casual dishonesty”.

The overriding problem with TTIP – much more important in my view than the standard objections – is that nation states would be handing control over to these crooks and vagabonds, with limited chance of retrieving control. TTIP is an important piece in the TNCs assumption of control over democracy.

It must be defeated.

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