Transatlantic free traders’ ambitions don’t stretch as far as workers’ rights
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the USA. These are the biggest trading blocs on the planet, and tariffs on the goods that flow between them are already pretty low. It’s been suggested that simply scrapping those remaining tariffs would ‘only’ add £3-£4bn to UK GDP, so free trade fetishists are after what they call a more ‘ambitious’ trade deal that would scrap all sorts of non-tariff trade barriers (and deliver, according to estimates not so much ambitious as wildly optimistic) £10bn a year.
Those non-tariff barriers include safety rules, financial services regulations, consumer protections and laws on workers’ rights. Which is where unions, environmentalists, consumer groups and many others part company with the free trade fetishists. But we refute the suggestion that we’re being protectionist just because we want to maintain the protections electorates across Europe – and in many cases the USA too – have voted for. And we’re also not against being ambitious, either. But, strangely, many free trade fetishists draw the line at ambition when it would benefit workers rather than corporates!
As an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal today explains (it’s behind a paywall, you’ll be surprised to know – they obviously don’t want the riff-raff finding this sort of stuff out) Congressional Republicans are only willing to agree TTIP if extending EU labour standards, or rules on GM food, to the USA is ruled out in advance.
And whenever we’ve urged the European Commission negotiators to extend the same sort of rights that foreign investors are being offered under Investor-State Dispute Settlement processes, or that characterise intellectual property rights in trade deals, we’re told that it simply isn’t possible to require adherence to the very labour standards that all ILO member states are already supposed to have agreed to uphold simply by virtue of membership. How unambitious!
So apparently it is possible to impose intellectual property rights (our creative industry unions wouldn’t disagree with that by the way: it’s their livelihood too), fracking, lower wages, unsafe chemicals like endocrine disrupters in the food chain and so on, but not workers’ rights to a voice.
In the end, it’s possible that TTIP negotiators will have to settle for a £3-£4bn injection into the UK economy (not a bad result compared with ten years of low to no growth.) But we should be more ambitious, and including enforceable workers’ rights in TTIP would deliver more than higher GDP. It would deliver trade justice as well as free trade.