ByÂ Frances O’GradyÂ TUC General Secretary
Trade affects everyoneâs lives. It affects the job you can get, the pay you receive and of course the goods you can buy. But trade policy and negotiations like those being conducted forÂ TTIP,Â CETAÂ andÂ TiSAaffect a lot more than that, and come with huge risks for our society. Iâll be speaking at European Trade Commissioner Cecilia MalmstrĂ¶mâsÂ Trade Policy DayÂ today, and making the case for a more active and more social European trade policy.
Trade negotiations now are about harmonisation of standards, not just bringing down tariffs. So protections covering the world of work, the environment and consumers, are also affected by trade policy. Trade negotiations also affect our public services and democracy when they contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and other special courts for foreign investors.
The row we saw in the European Parliament this month over foreign investorsâ special privileges in TTIP proves that old-style ISDS is dead. No one supports it any more, on the left, on the right or in the Commission.
And yet, zombie-like, ISDS stumbles on in the Canada – EU deal, CETA, unreformed, unamended, and unacceptable.Â If Commissioner MalmstrĂ¶m â and almost everyone else who knows about investment deals and trade â accepts that old-style ISDS has had its day, why is she still trying to foist its undead presence on us through CETA?
As unions, weâre in favour ofÂ fairÂ tradeÂ not just free trade. Trade mustÂ createÂ decent jobs with wages you can live on. The TUC has a long history of supporting trade agreements based on tariff reductions that improved living standards and increased jobs by expanding trade.
But unions on both sides of the Atlantic reject the compensation culture that is building up in multinational companies, where suing democratically elected governments becomes more remunerative than actually providing a service.
It is an affront to democracy for investors to be able to use ISDS or any special court system written into trade agreements to overturn the decisions of governments to pass legislation for the public good, like raising the minimum wage, introducing plain packaging on cigarettesÂ protecting the environmentÂ or bringing public services back into public control. It isÂ not good enoughÂ to be reassured that our public services will not be part of trade deals, as we have been by our own Prime Minister as well as the European Commissioner. We need a clear carve out for public services, broadly defined, and we need it in writing in all these deals. If audio-visual services can be excluded from TTIP, why canât our vital public services be off the table too?
The history of trade agreements so far negotiated by the EUÂ doesnât bode well for workers. In Korea, afterÂ it hadÂ signed a trade agreement with the EU, trade union offices were raided and the General Secretary of one of the union confederations was thrown in prison in 2013. TheÂ only result from the Commission to Korean authorities was a letter of complaint.Â Look at the billion dollar settlements that foreign investors who claim their rights have been violated have receivedÂ throughÂ ISDS and the injustice is clear.
If ISDS falls in TTIP but gets through in CETA, that wouldÂ open the doorÂ to US firms established in Canada to sue European governments, regardless of what gets put in the EU-US deal.
Trade agreements must be made in the public interest to have public support. The TTIP, CETA and TiSA zombie deals currently on the table fail this test miserably, and the strong opposition they are facing from unions in many affected countries will continue unless these fundamental issues are properly addressed.
This blog was first published on the Touchstone blog site.