TTIP – a toxic trade treaty

TTIP Common Space Picture courtesy greensefa

Fracking, slappers and acts of bonding with a brown-nosed select few..

Cloaked in subterfuge, there’s a toxic deal being negotiated between the USA and EU – a Trojan treaty that will threaten our way of life, weaken our laws and put the future of our public services in jeopardy. This pact is known by the acronym TTIP. There’s only one complete copy of this EU/USA ‘free trade’ agreement: allegedly it’s tucked away within a secure reading room at the European Parliament building in Brussels. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a power grab that will make the privatisation of services like Royal Mail and the NHS irreversible. The institutions of the EU and its member states must stop negotiating with the USA on TTIP. They must not ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.

The UK is in danger of surrendering (more) judicial independence and control to multinational corporations. The Investor State Dispute Settlement component (ISDS) of TTIP gifts new powers to US and EU hegemonic forces, namely the financial institutions and corporations, which will be able to prosecute if they disapprove of UK policies or don’t like legal changes which affect their businesses, such as raising the minimum wage. In the USA, McDonalds are currently taking the city of Seattle to court, claiming that the new minimum wage of $15 per hour is ‘damaging their profits’.

There are legal threats aplenty from big business already. In Germany, when they wanted to stop nuclear power, a big energy company sued. In Romania there are protests because a Canadian company is suing their government for trying to protect its mountains from gold-mining. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, in 2011 Lone Pine Resources Inc launched a lawsuit against the Canadian Government after a Quebec moratorium on fracking.

Using a comparable trade deal, the Australian government is being sued by Philip Morris over proposed legislation on plain packaging for tobacco products. This has so far cost Australian citizens over $30million in legal fees. Additionally Philip Morris is suing Uruguay in a $25m lawsuit because the country is attempting to enlarge health warnings on cigarette packets.  Sovereignty at risk – a law called ‘Sue!’   TTIP controversy: The European Commission and Big Tobacco accused of cover-up after heavily redacted documents released. Article in the Independent on 28th August 2015.   Independent: Big Tobacco puts countries on trial as concerns over TTIP deals mount  Backlash grows as leaked text reveals increased corporate control of public health. ‘Wikileaks’ in Democracy Now

A European Parliament vote on TTIP in June was postponed because of widespread opposition to ISDS. A proposal to substitute ‘an international investment court’ was a poor attempt at rehashing ISDS. It was branded ‘lipstick on a pig’, a phrase that could be topical at present, but in fact has nothing to do with Pig-gate.

These TTIP negotiations epitomise the (broken) neoliberal narrative of servitude. The right to make a profit becomes a given. Licensed to sue, come what may; commerce comes out on top – economic monopoly power is gifted state and legal statutes to eliminate any risk. Public money can be used to bail out big corporations that fall into difficulties brought on by greed and mismanagement. Supported by bland politicians, powerful lobbyists and PR gurus spouting expedient guff, these corporations straddle national frontiers. They owe allegiance only to their shareholders – the 1% who control, own and benefit. Private institutions like banks are deemed too big to fail, while public services and ‘rogue nations’ like Greece are not. Meantime austerity measures mean the poor and vulnerable bear the brunt. Once upon a time, within living memory, this was called Class War.

Confused priorities were exposed when the Scottish National Party (SNP) held its annual pow-wow between 15th-17th October at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. The SNP-led Scottish Government could still end up shackled to TTIP. Corporations will be free to sue the UK and Scottish governments in special tribunals. These elected bodies will face secret courts if they try to enshrine Human Rights, adopt stringent food standard regulations or protect the environment, to offer just three areas of possible conflict. As a non-devolved issue, if the UK Government and EU signs up to TTIP, the Scottish Government will have to toe the line anyway. There are European Union State Aid rules which strictly limit direct financial support governments can offer to companies. EU tendering rules could have been evoked to keep Scottish Water in charge of retail water distribution, instead of awarding the contract to Anglian Water, a company with a poor record on the environment, tax affairs and staff pay. Thus, companies could use EU-sanctioned TTIP to challenge the EU’s own laws. In the UK, the Rail Delivery Group could scupper any attempt to renationalise the railway network. Private contractors in the NHS could unleash legal protests if jobs were brought back under State control. Scottish farmers would have to compete with huge US agricultural enterprises.

Since winning the 2015 General Election, the UK Tory Government has launched a significant attack on renewable energy, a process to the detriment of Scotland in particular. It has announced major cuts for solar power subsidies, the scrapping of schemes which help folk to reduce home energy bills and the dismantling of support mechanisms for community-owned projects. Rumours circulate about a fire sale to include the profitable Green Investment Bank. Clean energy firms have initiated a judicial review over the consultation timescale and changes to the Climate Change Levy exemption.

Whether the Scottish Government could use TTIP to challenge the UK Government for withdrawing onshore windfarm subsidies a year earlier than planned – already this axe has been wielded, although the House of Lords has rejected the timetable alteration and sent the proposed legislation back to the House of Commons – is conjecture. Possible disputes that could involve ISDS and energy issues – carbon capture at Peterhead power station, for example – are examined later. Conversely, how much (more) havoc, delay and expense could the notoriously litigious, windmill-hating Trump, his cohorts and corporate lawyers create if they were able to claim compensation under TTIP legislation? Donald, here’s your lawsuits.

The SNP’s chumminess with royalty, celebrities, industrialists, financiers and real estate moguls is alarming – witness the Scottish Government’s cronyism with Donald Trump, Sean Connery, DF Concerts, Anglian Water, Brian Souter, Prince Charles, Jim Ratcliffe at Ineos (Grangemouth) and Algy Cluff, to name butt a brown-nosed select few. Scottish Government Energy minister Fergus Ewing predicts a “dire future” if the dominant corporate giants of the energy industry are brought into public ownership, a policy to nationalise the big utilities that new (old) Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has advocated. The SNP’s grandstanding and bonding with plutocrats mirrors that of discredited, unelectable New Labour.  Sturgeon and Ratcliffe. Ineos paid £4000 for a lobbying stall at the SNP’s October conference.

The ‘common sense’ consensus has passed its sell-by date. It is part and parcel of a massive pack of lies. Blair, Campbell and Brown led the UK into a war by lying about intelligence on Iraq: non-existent weapons that are primed for use within 45 minutes, how does that sound, Tony? Allegedly Corbyn said that Bin Laden’s assassination was a tragedy; actually he said:that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden didn’t stand trial for his crimes. The same might be said about Blair. ‘The days of boom-and-bust are over’, we were told in 2007, as the MPs’ expenses scandal broke and the bankers brought on the recession. Fear-mongers are resorting to fallacies and ill-tempered sneers, reinventing ‘reds-under-the-bed’ smears to hide the facts, diverting folk from addressing issues like illegal wars, foodbanks, the bedroom tax, the onslaught of cuts, threats to Human Rights laws, tenant farmer evictions, land reform, fuel poverty and renewed attacks on the trade unions.

Beware of orthodoxies, ideological purity and the mindless pursuit of votes – they do not necessarily lead to power anyway. Don’t believe the mainstream media: stop sucking up to the rich. Timid legislation reinforces the disquiet. To quote Robin McAlpine: ‘Corporations take the attitude that if you aren’t winning, you need better lawyers.’

There’s no need for any extra legal shenanigans. To give examples of interference and the law meddling with policies, minimum pricing for alcohol legislation has been held up in the courts after challenges by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Vitol’s Ian Taylor tried unsuccessfully to sue National Collective during last year’s Scottish independence referendum because Michael Gray posted an article revealing that the oil trader had a deplorable record of murky deals, including links to a Serbian war criminal. The dirty donor bankrolled Better Together’s ‘No’ campaign to the tune of £500,000 during the referendum. Taylor has added to his fortune by storing crude oil (a process called contango); now he has rewarded his lackeys, the Tories, by giving the party £100,000 this year.

Like Trump, energy company Cluff Natural Resources (CNR) opposes windfarms in the North Sea, yet CNR wants to develop offshore underground coal gasification (UCG) under the Firth of Forth. UCG is regarded as worse than fracking by many. CNR is complaining that its UCG investments are threatened by any ban.

Among major shareholders in the Five Quarters energy company is the Buccleuch Group, the UK’s largest private landowner. Five Quarters also has plans for UCG in the Forth and Solway estuaries.  ‘Coal gas company Five Quarters warns Mel Kelly, Scottish clean energy activist – stop campaigning or we will sue’ – Paul Mobbs, writing in the Ecologist, May 2014. ‘Threats of this kind have a name – SLAPPs. That is, ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’. SLAPPing is a tactic often used in the USA, where companies hellbent on environmental destruction take campaigners to court in order to quash opposition.’ Like spurious legal charges against activists, the process is the punishment. The slappers will love TTIP. Mel Kelly updated her battle story on September 1st, 2015. ‘Five Quarters backed off completely. The last thing they wanted was a court case which would have made headlines in exposing the reality of UCG. This is our land, our air, our water, our livestock, our economy and our childrens’ lives.’

Other positive notes.. The Scottish Government’s moratorium has been extended to include UCG.  Campaigners’ victory as Scottish Government declares moratorium on underground gas extraction. Ineos plan to continue testing as part of the Scottish Government’s investigation into the viability and safety of fracking. The chemicals giant has bought 12 gas fields in the North Sea.

All 55 SNP MPs have signed a House of Commons motion raising major concerns about TTIP.

Energy company Drax has abandoned a £1bn project to introduce carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to cut emissions. Part of a scheme to store carbon dioxide next to its plant in North Yorkshire, Drax is the biggest coal-fired power station in the UK. It is not funding full CCS deployment, halting further investment because of the government’s decision to reduce subsidies for renewable energy. This leaves Peterhead’s gas-fired power station as the sole bidder competing for £1bn of government money to build Europe’s first carbon capture plant on a commercially operating power station, although a CCS project for a new coal gasification power plant at the Grangemouth refinery was put in reserve place in the competition iwhen the Peterhead and Drax developments were named as preferred bidders. Drax would have a case against the UK Government if TTIP became EU law.

The ISDS component within the TTIP deal must become a critical issue for debate and action. There is a UN climate summit in Paris in December and a UK referendum on EU membership next year.

In August 2015, eight thousand 38 Degrees members took to the streets throughout the UK to raise awareness about the dangers of TTIP. In Germany, Ireland and Sweden, new movements are campaigning. More organisations are gearing up in countries like Poland and Romania. TTIP Free Zones are emerging throughout Europe. National Parliaments must encourage transparent widespread debates and ultimately make the decisions. Sovereignty is imperative. Certainly Scotland will be sliced wide open for big business to do as it pleases if TTIP becomes par for the course here.

Related articles: ‘Underused crackers and fast-tracked frackers’, forviemedia WordPress blog May 6th 2015. Read also ‘Earth, Wind & Fire – unco gas news’ from October 20th 2014 & ‘What the frack?’, posted on November 18th 2013  ‘The Murky Front Group Pushing GM on Scotland’ – Jen Stout.  MPs to investigate TTIP trade deal’s impact on environmental protections  European Commission: Consultation on investment protection in EU-US trade talks.  Edited CommonSpace article by Chris Ramsey.’Is the SNP getting ready to toe the line on TTIP?’ 170+ likes and 224 shares.   Nick Dearden – Scottish anti-TTIP campaigners can help inspire a movement to transform the world. Nationalism alone is not enough: the SNP finally shows it is mortal: Gerry Hassan.   ‘The threat of the US-EU trade deal’ – Jeremy Corbyn.

On Monday 5th October 2015, the United States and eleven Pacific Rim nations reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest regional trade accord in history and a wish-list for corporations, particularly the pharmaceutical giants. The agreement will encompass 40% of the global economy. The secret text has not been made public.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders warned that the American people need time to understand TTIP. He issued a statement saying, “The disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will hurt consumers and cost American jobs. Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”


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