The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA.
The intention to launch TTIP negotiations was first announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in February 2013, and the first round of negotiations took place between European Commission and US officials in July of the same year. The aim is to rush through the talks as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the USA find out the true scale of the TTIP threat.
As officials from both sides acknowledge, the primary aim of TTIP is not to stimulate trade through removing tariffs between the EU and USA, as these are already at minimal levels. The main goal of TTIP is, by their own admission, to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.
The stakes, in other words, could not be higher.
In addition to this deregulation agenda, TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services and government procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, such as health and education. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions.
This ‘investor-State dispute settlement’ mechanism effectively elevates transnational capital to a status equivalent to the nation-state itself, and threatens to undermine the most basic principles of democracy in the EU and USA alike. TTIP is therefore correctly understood not as a negotiation between two competing trading partners, but as an attempt by transnational corporations to prise open and deregulate markets on both sides of the Atlantic.
There is a growing body of concern among EU and US citizens at the threats posed by TTIP, and civil society groups are now joining forces with academics, parliamentarians and others to prevent pro-business government officials from signing away the key social and environmental standards listed above.