From the TUC

Delivering a social EU-US trade deal for the people

17 Feb 2014, by Guest in International

Trade can create jobs. European nations are trading nations, and Europe can compete with the best, given a level playing field. We oppose protectionism, but we also reject a free trade ideology that takes no account of our collective preferences, summed up in the European Social Model. Trade policy should reflect Europe’s highest ideals.

Trade should be at the service of full and decent employment – a central EU objective that we overlook at our peril, and which voters in the forthcoming European Parliament will not.

We have traditionally supported multilateral approaches to trade policy. But the world of trade seems to have become too complicated for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to cope. And despite trade union efforts to bring a social dimension to world trade – in the same way as we insist that there should be one incorporated in the EU single market – the resistance by a range of countries in the WTO to move further than a few joint studies with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been very disappointing.

We welcome the decision of the European Parliament last week to introduce references to the observance of international labour and environmental standards in anti-dumping cases, as well as the possibility for trade unions and other stakeholders to submit complaints. I sincerely hope that no one will seek to reverse those decisions.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is not the only trade deal being negotiated at the moment, but it has the highest profile.

The ETUC has yet to be convinced about figures that have been put around concerning its GDP growth and job creation potential. Suggestions that this will pull us out of the crisis are just not credible. We need a new investment plan for Europe to do that, and a proper industrial policy – including external trade considerations.

A proper Sustainability Impact Assessment for TTIP is required, telling us what jobs would be created; with which wages and under what conditions; focussing on sectors and regions in Europe. And we need adequate adjustment instruments: the European Globalisation Fund is not enough.

Demands for greater transparency – in which trade unions have been at the forefront – have been mounting and now have political traction. We welcome recent responses by the Commission to publish some of its initial position papers and to establish an advisory committee including trade union representatives and NGOs.

It also was a positive move – under duress – to consult on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). But we still have questions: will “no” mean “no” or will we be faced with a charade aimed at settling on a text already drafted in the negotiations with Canada? The member states seem reluctant to go down the ISDS route. So why is the Commission more royalist than the king in pressing on? And if it is possible to consult on ISDS, why not on other sensitive topics?

A vast area at the centre of the negotiations concerns regulatory convergence. We have been clear from the outset that TTIP must set a gold standard in social and environmental as well as technical terms. And standard setting is much too important to be left to technocrats and industrial lobbies, for example in the context of the Transatlantic Regulatory Council that has been mooted. Stakeholders –including trade unions- should have a voice.

Europe has shown the way in a number of areas: REACH for chemicals; our ban on asbestos, the precautionary principle and the reversal of the burden of proof. These should not be undermined though mutual recognition of standards, set by weak self-appointed regulatory bodies and policed by the fear of litigation.

However, if we can achieve the transatlantic gold standard of the kind we suggest, there are opportunities not only to reduce administrative costs but to set standards that will lead the world.

That should apply to labour standards, too. All countries should fully implement the standards set by the ILO. A way must be found to get the United States to commit to them, even though it has only ratified two of the eight core standards.

The Commission’s belief that ‘incentives’ are enough to get countries to observe their obligations has been spectacularly disproved by South Korea, which has multiplied its violations of trade union rights since our Free Trade Agreement came into force. US FTAs contain an enforcement clause –albeit weak – and the EU should go in that direction.

A strong labour chapter will send a strong message to working people that their calls for fair trade are being heard.

This is an edited version of Bernadette Segol’s recent speech at the European Parliament’s international trade committee.