Imagine how crazy it would be if business corporations could sue entire countries, for doing stuff that might mean they made less money. Like, say Marlboro suing the government when they banned cigarette advertising. Or Smirnoff suing them when they made drinking and driving illegal.
Imagine something even more odd. Imagine if these cases were decided by a bunch of unelected, paid lawyers. (For paid, read ‘have an interest in making sure the cases last as long as possible’). Imagine if whatever decision these suits came up with was binding and could not be challenged under domestic judiciary systems. Imagine if these cases cost each side around £5million, and the government had to pay the costs of the companies suing, whether or not they ‘won’ or not, as well as any compensation that the suits decided was appropriate.
Now that’s just too crazy. That means for example that when the carrier bag charge came in (keep up, we’re ahead of you in Wales) the Carrier Bag Making Boss could take the country to ‘court’, have all his costs paid for doing so, and then get paid compensation because the government had adversely affected its profit making ability. What the WHAT?
Yeah. Crazy. Except the UK are in the process of signing up to a deal which means that this can – and will – happen. The deal is the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP), and it’s a bilateral trade agreement between the EU and the USA.
You probably haven’t heard a lot about the TTIP. That’s because the negotiations are being rushed through behind closed doors. There has been limited reporting of the initiative, and what there has been has tended to be about the TTIP making trade between the EU and the USA easier, which is generally inferred to be ‘A Good Thing’.
Is it A Good Thing? No, not for everybody. Not even for most people, actually. It’s certainly good for huge multinational companies, who will have unfettered access to a larger market (and let’s not forget the right to sue when things don’t go their way). It’s also pretty good for those who have investments in large multinational companies, so let’s assume that’s at least some of the rich boy Bullingdon set.
The rest of us? Not so much. Removing those pesky barriers also includes things like:
- the EU dropping the Fuel Quality Directive (that’s balancing the benefits of fuel extraction against the harm caused by extracting it to you and me)
- opening the UK up to US fracking companies
- Making it nigh-on impossible to use regulation to slow climate change because of the threat of litigation – for example the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall sued the German government for introducing environmental regulations that made a planned coal-fired power plant “uneconomical”
- The same goes for regulation intended to benefit public health – for example Philip Morris have challenged Australia’s decision to introduce plain cigarette packaging
- Losing the standards we have in place for keeping foodstuff safe (chlorinated chicken, anyone?)
- Force further deregulation and privatisation of the NHS in order to allow access to US healthcare businesses
- Making it impossible for a future government to roll back towards a system of public healthcare – or public anything at all (we can but hope, hey) because of the risks of being sued
It’s all pretty scary stuff, unless you’re part of a multinational, or part of an organisation that makes money by betting on multinationals – no surprise that the City of London is rubbing its hands with glee about the prospect of all the juicy speculate-to-accumulate practices that will once again be allowed to flourish, thus threatening all of our financial stability All. Over. Again.
There’s so much more to write about on this, but I’m aware that dissecting the TTIP does not make the most exciting blog post, whichever way it’s skinned. But it is important, and it’s happening right now, and if it goes through, it will give businesses, driven by profits, more authority over our collective decision making than our elected government.
But – it’s not a done deal – yet. Deals like this have been called off due to public pressure before, and so could this one be.
With a couple of clicks, you can write to your MP to demand transparency in the negotiations. You can sign the petition against the TTIP at Change.org. You can respond to the EU’s online consultation (deadline 13th July). You could join one of the No TTIP Days of Action around the country taking place this Saturday.
Or you could read this, roll your eyes, and do nothing. Your choice. But right now, you have a choice. Whereas if the TTIP goes through, there’ll be an awful lot of things that you don’t have a choice on at all.