From the TUC

Transatlantic free traders’ ambitions don’t stretch as far as workers’ rights

27 Dec 2013, by in International

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.

12 Responses to Transatlantic free traders’ ambitions don’t stretch as far as workers’ rights

  1. Syzygy
    Dec 27th 2013, 9:05 pm

    Lori Wallach describes the TTIP (TAFTA or EU-US FTA) as being about the removal of ‘barriers to trade’ – in other words, removing every bit of legislation protecting people and the environment, on both sides of the Atlantic. Trade justice is hardly the agenda.

    IMO an injection of £3-4bn is a very bad deal.. particularly when the UK government could create as many billions as it needs to ensure full employment without giving up sovereignty to the corporates. And that ‘injection of £3-4bn’ is not guaranteed .. none of the projected benefits of NAFTA and other FTAs have actually come into reality.

  2. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Dec 27th 2013, 9:14 pm

    Syzygy, I don’t think we disagree, but I think you’ve misread my argument (or I may not have explained myself well enough!) The estimated £3-£4bn gain is from tariff reductions alone, which don’t affect legislative protections, regulations etc. As you say, scrapping non-tariff barriers to trade would be problematic, and that’s where the imaginative accounting takes the ‘gain’ up to £10bn.

  3. John
    Dec 28th 2013, 2:06 am

    Another concerning Touchstone article (almost to end the year with). No doubt Touchstone readers will be following the TTIP closely. You have painted a bleak, but real picture Owen of what could happen to the Rights of Workers & ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Lower pay & questionable working conditions will result in poorer health plus low moral of the ‘foot soldiers’ & a cheaper, but poorer quality product. The customer care will not be there. The Free Trade fitishists will be crossing a line too far on this issue and this is where I hope that there would be mass counter protests against them, strongly supported by the TUC, responsible politicians, & advocates of Sustainability, Environment & a much fairer society across Europe.

    To end on a more upbeat note, may I with everyone at Touchstone and indeed readers of Touchstone articles a positive and happy New Year for 2014.

  4. John
    Dec 28th 2013, 2:09 am

    Apologies, that last sentence should read ‘may I wish everyone …….

  5. Syzygy
    Dec 28th 2013, 12:03 pm

    Apologies for any misunderstanding on my part Owen Tudor.

    I remember in 1993, reading documents (leaked by angry MEPs) about the secretly negotiated GATS treaty. I took it to the Women’s Section to discuss but we just couldn’t take it seriously with its intention to privatise health, education, social services and patent legislation. It seemed quite fantastical… particularly its obsession with privatising libraries. 20 years on, it doesn’t seem like a joke.

    I’m sure you are also aware of the provision in the EU-India FTA, which will allow Indian workers to be imported to work in the UK, unprotected by our employment legislation. I have no doubt that this will be included in the TTIP and TTP. It will be an important plank in increasing the ‘precariousness’ of the workforce, unemployed and employed.

    Opposition to the TTP is mounting and the TUC should be fundamental in spearheading the opposition to the TTIP/TAFTA. The capacity of corporations to effectively overturn domestic legislation is very close to Mussolini’s definition of fascism. There is a twitter protest being mounted against the TPP (otherwise known as NAFTA on steroids).

  6. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Dec 28th 2013, 4:29 pm

    John, thanks for your kind remarks and Happy New Year to you too!

    Syzygy, yes, it’s always difficult warning people about stuff that seems so unlikely (we have lots of experience trying to persuade our fellow European trade unionists that what happened to us would happen to them, although I think they’ve got it now!) Just for clarity on the EU-India FTA, the deal still hasn’t been finalised (and may indeed be on hold until TTIP makes progress), but we’ve negotiated the Indian migration quota down to a 30,000 limit, and increased the protections that will be built in – and we’ll keep pressing, especially on the protections. From memory, TTIP doesn’t contain anything that clear on EU-US migration, not least because the wage differentials between US and EU workers are far, far closer than EU-India (we and the AFLCIO are still cautious about – and therefore vigilant about – Eastern European and now Greek wage rates. And those in the deep south of the USA!)

    On TPP, the AFLCIO’s view is that that agreement (much closer to being finalised than TTIP) is far worse, and what’s worse is better understood: the TUC thinks TTIP must be reformed or it will garner the same opposition as TPP. We will be doing a *lot* more on TTIP in 2014, and firing up online actions and offline lobbying/campaigning.

  7. Douglas Rooney
    Dec 28th 2013, 5:08 pm

    I suppose the Free Trade agreement is in keeping with the history of Europe (at least the western part) since the end of the Second World War. We have long been part of the western provinces of the American Empire-although possibly it is more accurate to say Corporatist Empire which happens to govern from the US. Any free trade agreement merely follows a long established trend of globalisation in the interest of the neo-colonial expansion of the corporate elite.

  8. Syzygy
    Dec 30th 2013, 1:42 pm

    Thank you Owen for the update on the TUC’s position. I am particularly pleased to read:

    ‘We will be doing a *lot* more on TTIP in 2014, and firing up online actions and offline lobbying/campaigning.’

    Great to hear! Happy New Year to you and yours. Making global trade work on behalf of the world’s workers instead of the corporations would be truly something to celebrate.

  9. Postkey
    Dec 31st 2013, 9:37 am


    ” Just for clarity on the EU-India FTA, the deal still hasn’t been finalised (and may indeed be on hold until TTIP makes progress), but we’ve negotiated the Indian migration quota down to a 30,000 limit, and increased the protections that will be built in – . . . ”

    I presume that this is out of date?

    “Thus an effectively irreversible international trade agreement is resting on the UK opening its borders to an unlimited supply of temporary, cheap, skilled labour – just what David Cameron offered to India on this trip.”

  10. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Dec 31st 2013, 11:39 am

    Postkey, yes, although it’s always worth being vigilant: the text of trade deals can keep changing until they are finally completed.

  11. Postkey
    Jan 1st 2014, 9:34 am


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