22 January 2014
Following what has been described as “unprecedented public interest” in talks between the EU and US on a potentially dangerous trade deal, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has promised a public consultation will be held.
The controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would seek to find a “balance” between corporate interests and the right of governments to regulate.
It is quite clear to trade unions and campaigning groups across the EU that this “balance” leans inexcusably in favour of multinational corporations.
Mr De Gucht admitted when announcing the forthcoming consultation yesterday (21 January 2014): “Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.”
Indeed, Assistant National Secretary Unite the Union Adrian Weir highlighted in a recent briefing two cases in which the bizarre situation has arisen of a private interest suing a nation for making moves that limited its profits.
The Slovak Republic, he pointed out, was fined $22 million when it attempted to renationalise its health insurance; and Australia is still fighting a legal case brought by the tobacco industry after the country legislated for plain packaging on tobacco products.
In particular, trade unions are concerned about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section of the TTIP, which could see repeats of this perverse legal action taking place in the EU wherever national regulations are seen as a “barrier” to free trade.
This month, campaigners including the TUC criticised the plans, explaining: “ISDS is a one-way street by which corporations can challenge government policies, but neither governments nor individuals are granted comparable rights to hold corporations accountable.”
Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, has been quoted as warning: “These clauses could thwart attempts by a future government to bring our health service back towards public ownership.”
Mr De Gucht will publish the proposed EU text for the relevant parts of the EU-US talks in early March and provide a three-month window for members of the public and campaigning organisations to respond with their concerns.