Unions & NGOs oppose foreign investor privileges in trans-atlantic trade deal
A coalition of 177 trade unions and campaign organisations from both sides of the Atlantic have demanded the exclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms from the EU-USA free trade deal, or Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Signatories include the TUC, the global ITUC and our US equivalent the AFLCIO; environment groups Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club; and many more.
The reasons for this opposition (communicated to the chief negotiators on both sides, USTR Ambassador Michael Froman and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht) are that ISDS forces governments to use taxpayer funds to compensate corporations for public health, environmental, worker and other public interest policies and government actions – and/or undermines democratic decision-making; as well as because European and US legal systems are more than capable of handling investment disputes.
I’ve blogged before about the impact ISDS can have on the law-making powers of democratically elected governments (especially, in the UK< on plans to restore public control of the NHS), and about the special rights that ISDS provides to foreign employers (over and above domestic employers, as well as everyone else). This latest letter makes it clear that ISDS will become a key issue in the negotiation of the TTIP, and the European Commission’s hostile response to these criticisms suggest we’re striking a nerve.
The Commission, which is now having to defend its ISDS proposals against civil society, public representatives and some EU member states – even hackers and open source enthusiasts, claims that all sorts of protections will be built into the deal. According to the Commission’s rebuttal, you have to ask what point there is in including ISDS provisions. That, and the reluctance of the Commission to reveal the actual wording they’re proposing for the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA), which they say provides a model for the TTIP chapter, makes me suspicious. So does the Commission’s reluctance to entertain the alternatives to ISDS being suggested by Joe Stiglitz and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
It’s possible that the Commission is mostly concerned that having its hand tied in the TTIP negotiations on ISDS will allow the US to demand other concessions in return, but the argument against ISDS is being made in the USA as well, and not just by unions, consumer groups and environmentalists.
If ISDS isn’t removed from TTIP altogether, or watered down so much it isn’t worth including, it has the potential to make TTIP impossible to sign. That’s a message we’ll be making to members of Congress and the European Parliament due to be elected in June, as well as governments on both sides of the Atlantic in 2014.