The great Polish poet and aphorist, Stanisław Jerzy Lec described politics as a Trojan horse race.
It is an analogy that most of us accept implicitly. In fact, so normalised has the idea become that in December 2013 when the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources responded to allegations that his party had misled the public by saying ‘Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?’ the electorate could barely summon a pair of eyebrows between them to raise in despair.
Today’s threat does not come in the form of a ‘horse of mountainous size,‘ however. It would be a far sight better if it did. We might be more wary of it. Instead, our ‘votive offering’ arrives in the shape of a harmless looking treaty that promises much and which, like the horse that sacked the city of Troy, will not reveal the horrors lurking within it’s gut until it is too late.
The TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is essentially a number of bi-lateral trade negotiations between the US and the EU. The largest of these agreements, the TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement) aims to bring together 51 states. It may surprise you that you haven’t heard much about ‘the biggest trade deal in the world‘, but it really shouldn’t. You are not supposed to for reasons that will soon become apparent. TTIP advocates will tell you they intend to bring down barriers to trade between the two largest economies in the world. Specifically, which barriers they are less likely to elaborate on. What is clear is that safeguards protecting food standards, workers rights and the environment will fall with alarming alacrity.
Still, proponents of TTIP are sticking very much to the script…
the deal will create the largest single market ever known. By best estimates, it will deliver a £10bn annual boost to the British economy alone, increase collective output by as much as £180bn, create thousands of jobs, and deliver lower prices and more choice to consumers.
There may be increased choice to consumers. But choice need only be celebrated if that which we may choose from is desirable. Personally, I can live without ever having to decide between chlorine washed chicken or hormone enhanced beef.
The most chilling aspect of all however, lies in the belly of this Trojan Treaty with the egregious concealment of investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS). Once again, the acronym appears harmless enough – as it is intended to do – but ISDS will allow for corporations to sue governments for the loss of anticipated future profits.
This merits repeating.
ISDS will allow corporations to sue democratically elected governments for the money they might lose at some point in the future.
And it gets better.
The suing of governments will not happen in a courtroom but in a specially created private arbitration panel, comprising of three corporate lawyers. The entire process will be insulated from judicial review.
TTIP is an all out declaration of war on democracy. Not only does TTIP threaten our democracy, but it undermines our security as taxpayers and strips us of the little sovereignty we still retain. For those who consider this hyperbole, we would do well to take a moment and look at what has happened in countries that already have ISDS as part of existing trade agreements.
In El Salvador, the Australian listed mining company OceanaGold is suing the El Salvador government for $300m – half of the country’s total budget – over the democratically elected government’s refusal to grant a mining permit after it found that the application received did not meet environmental safety standards and could poison the country’s limited water supplies.
In Australia, the tobacco firm, Philip Morris is suing the government there for daring to warn citizens about the dangers of smoking and the introduction of plain cigarette packaging. They’re suing Uruguay too just for good measure.
And in Ecuador, the oil firm Occidental was recently awarded $2.3bn in compensation when their drilling concession was terminated after it was found to have broken Ecuadorian law. You read that correctly. The Ecuadorian Government found a drilling concession granted to Occidental broke Ecuadorian law. It terminated the contract and was sued for the $2.3bn that Occidental might have made if they had been permitted to continue breaking that law.
If that is not sobering enough, there are currently 500 similar cases being brought against sovereign nations by private corporations utilising existing ISDS agreements throughout the world. Corporations are as entitled to sue anyone as any one of us.
The blindingly obvious question that must be asked however, is this… What is so wrong with our justice system – the system that can decide to remove a child from his or her mother or decide whether a person’s life can be taken from them – that it is unable to sit in arbitration between a company and a state representative to discuss an alleged breach of contract?
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