TTIP – Political aspects (Part 3)

by Dario Rivolta*

In 2013, the US and the EU concluded an agreement on aviation standards considered mandatory. A short time later, Canada, Brazil and China also accepted the standards of this agreement, which became a common reference point for the world’s largest economies. The same could happen were the TTIP agreement to come about: The criteria agreed upon would very likely also serve as reference points for other countries. This is one of the declared aims of those who vehemently champion the conclusion of the agreement. Apart from this, another agreement, similar to TTIP, has already been signed by the US government and 11 other countries, the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership, which the governments of the USA, Chile, Brunei, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia , Mexico, Peru and Vietnam have joined). It is thus clear that even a later agreed Euro-American agreement should not contain a clause which is in contradiction with what has already been signed.
It is still uncertain whether the Transpacific Agreement (TPP) will enter into force, as for this it should be approved by at least six parliaments of the signatory countries until 4 February 2018, and the GDP of these has to amount to at least 85% of the total of all candidate countries.
For predominantly economic reasons, which are similar to the problems with the TTIP (see Current Concerns, No. 22 of 10 October 2016), there are more and more politicians in the US skeptical about whether a ratification is really sensible and expedient. Also in Japan, local agriculture does not appear to be willing to adopt a system which puts them at a massive disadvantage. However, parliamentarians have to read the entire text, which means about 6,000 pages divided into 30 chapters with many numbers and many references to norms. That would not be serious if the global importance of the agreement justified it. It is however a pity, that parliamentarians are only allowed a vote of aye or nay on the text before them, and that after not having learned anything at all about its meaning during the negotiations, without any possibility of requesting amendments or to vote on separate points separately.
The same mechanism also applies for TTIP. In this case as well, the negotiations were held in secrecy, and something could be learned about them only because Greenpeace and other organizations were able to leak some information. At this time, the Italian government also agreed to make the current situation public. But it prescribed conditions that are, to say the least, embarrassing: only those parliamentarians who had previously asked for it were allowed access to the files. They had to organize themselves in turn, and each person was granted only one hour in a specially guarded room. They were not allowed to copy the documents or makes photos of them. I do not agree with those who complain about this lack of transparency: it is understandable that in international negotiations, talks must be confidential until the conclusion. In order to ensure as much leeway as possible, the parties must not be under a great deal of pressure and they may need more political freedom or even the chance to backpedal. However, democracy requires that, when the text has been agreed upon and before it is signed, the representatives of the people will be able to see what has been done and, if necessary, to make suggestions for amendments. The Italian Minister Carlo Calenda, a major advocate of the agreement, praised the democratic organization of the process by saying: “[...] not only the unanimous decision of the Council of Europe is needed, but also that of the European Parliament and 38 national parliaments. Is there a more democratic process possible? “(See “Espresso” of 2 June). It is a pity, Mr Calenda, that, like with the TTIP agreement in the US and here, “everything or nothing” must be accepted and “the devil is in the details”, as was said in the title of an article on the American website Stratfor. It does not show much respect for the role of the people’s representatives to force them to accept or reject a very complex text, often with conflicting interests concerning customs duties and health, environmental and financial norms, or the future legislative power of governments and parliaments, and which will ultimately be decisive for the survival of whole economic branches. Even if one acknowledges the goodwill of those who have adopted this approach, it would seem that a public discussion about individual points is not intended, in order to make the intervention of the most powerful lobbies impossible and thus to bring forward the overall interest in favour of any particular interests. If this were the only reason, one would, I am sorry to say, have to wonder why a further and progressive “normative agreement” between the US and the EU is foreseen even after the negotiations are concluded (ie after the parliamentary votes). Such a “revision” will be entrusted to “technical experts” operating without any control by elected bodies. This means that the text adopted by the parliaments will subsequently be modified on a confidential basis by experts – who are not politically elected and who are only responsible to their superiors. Is this not exactly what gives rise to the risk of lobby access? We think the danger seems to be even greater like this.
Let us summarise at this point, even though we enlarge upon a great many other points: this agreement, which is still in negotiation, will probably cause economic interests to be above the laws of national states. However, these in turn will prefer to promote aspects concerning health or the environment. The judgments assigned to “arbitrators” will run parallel to the traditional judiciary and be independent of it. Any economic benefit for the two contracting parties will be derisory or even negative for one of them. Parliaments will have no substantial say as to the content of the agreement and might be completely excluded from future decisions on changes or extensions. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and hormone meat might fill the shelves of our shopping centers, and hundreds of thousands of workers might see their safety dwindling or even lose their jobs.
So what is the reason for the insistance on the implementation of this agreement?
A common key to the understanding of the two agreements TPP and TTIP is that the economies of the BRICS countries are excluded from both, ie the so-called emerging countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In this way it is to be made clear, that this “economic NATO” (words of the former Secretary-General of NATO, and also Obama said so in the Congress) will allow the USA and not China “to write the rules of the way into the 21st century.” Those who sign the pact will position themselves on the side of those who will control the future of the world.
Badmouthers add that the Americans, being on a descending course, are aiming at a restructuring of their leadership role on a global scale with the aid of these two agreements, and that they are thus expressing their explicit intention to secure their influence on both sides of the oceans. Our place is, of course, on the side of the Americans. We just have to ask ourselves what price we are willing to pay.

*     Dario Rivolta is a former member of the Italian Parliament, a geopolitical analyst and an expert on international relations and economic issues.

(Translation Current Concerns)