What will be the impact of TTIP on the USA? Gwen Buck interviews Bill Waren of Friends of the Earth United States to find out.
Gwen Buck: What would be the implications for the US if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) went ahead?
Bill Waren: We do have some idea of what is in TTIP negotiating text thanks to the somewhat more open European process, and thanks to whistle-blowers who have revealed secret documents.
The investment chapters in TTIP show that firms would be able to sue governments for potentially billions in financial damages if environmental or public health regulations interfere with future profits. This would discourage positive government action like restricting oil and gas drilling, imposing pollution controls, limiting the use of fracking, or even stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
TTIP would stymie congressional action to more effectively regulate chemicals associated with breast cancer, autism and infertility. More immediately, it could undermine effective toxic chemical regulation currently on the books in California and other states. TTIP would also undercut GMO labelling initiatives in the US.
Ambassador Froman, the US Trade Representative, and the Republican congressional leadership are hell-bent on using TTIP to increase US coal, oil and gas exports to the world that are fuelling global warming. Ambassador Froman also wants TTIP intellectual property provisions that protect patents on plants, animals and other life forms, giving corporations monopolies over the use of parts of the genetic code.
Gwen Buck: The US is part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which allows free trade between Canada, the US and Mexico. Can this be used as an example of what TTIP will be like for people? What have the implications of NAFTA been for the US?
Bill Waren: Last January was the twentieth anniversary of NAFTA. It is the primary reason labour, environmental and public health standards are so much lower here compared to Europe. TTIP promises to harmonise down European standards to the level of the United States – post NAFTA.
If what you want in Europe is an accelerated flow of wealth from the 99% to the 1%, environmental deregulation, unsafe food on the kitchen table, the destruction of small-scale family farms, prohibitively costly medical care, big pharmaceutical corporations unfairly raising prices, and near total corporate control of government and your economy, then by all means work hard to ratify TTIP.
Gwen Buck: With the UN Paris climate talks happening this year, what impact will TTIP have on the US’s ability to limit its carbon emissions?
Bill Waren: As a result of the boom in environmentally-destructive fracking, the fastest-growing natural gas and oil producer in the world is now the United States. Dirty energy companies are some of the businesses pushing for TTIP to be ratified. This would help them export to global markets, where they can demand higher prices for coal and gas. Meanwhile, Canada wants to transport tar sands oil through the Keystone XL pipeline, to refineries in Texas, which if TTIP goes ahead will be shipped overseas where they can sell it far more profitably than in the US.
Recently leaked EU documents exposed the EU’s intention to increase US oil and gas exports to Europe. EU negotiators at TTIP talks want the US to scrap its current legal prohibition on crude oil exports and its licensing restrictions on natural gas exports. TTIP would encourage increased US coal, oil and gas exports to the world that will fuel continued global warming.
The huge extra demand for fossil fuels as a result of TTIP threatens to turn the US into an EU fracking colony.
Gwen Buck: The US is currently in the process of negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as well as TTIP. What has been the general public’s reaction to these new mega trade deals and what are people’s concerns?
Bill Waren: The big focus of public concern in the US today is Fast Track trade promotion legislation that may come up for a vote in the US Congress imminently.
Traditionally, under the US Constitution, Congress writes legislation in open committee sessions where amendments are offered, debated on and voted for. The Constitution also gives Congress the power to make international trade policy. However the Obama administration aims to pass Fast Track before the American people know about it. Fast Track legislation would sharply limit Congress’ role in trade policy by forcing TPP and TTIP deals through on a quick up or down vote, with little debate and no amendments.
TTIP text has been classified as a state secret, enforced by serious criminal penalties. Even the few members of Congress who read TTIP text cannot disclose to the public the details of what they read. The former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, admitted in a candid moment that disclosing would “raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.”
In effect, a vote to approve Fast Track is a vote to approve TTIP and TPP unseen – because the public and press are denied access to the secret negotiating text.
Gwen Buck: President Obama has spoken in favour of TTIP, is this true of his party and other political parties?
Bill Waren: No, Obama is out of touch with his party. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in the US House of Representatives will oppose TTIP, just as they are blocking the path to passage of Fast Track trade legislation today. There will also be a surprisingly large number of conservative Republicans who oppose TTIP – because of the threat it presents to constitutional government and national sovereignty. But there is pressure from global corporations and Wall Street fat cats, who have made political campaign donations and are calling in all their IOUs to pass Fast Track so TTIP can help them gain greater profits.
Gwen Buck: Across Europe stopping TTIP has captured the imagination of millions of people, a lot of those are people who’ve never before been involved in environmental and social campaigning, young and old alike. How do American citizens feel about TTIP? Have they been inspired to act against TTIP?
Bill Waren: We face a much tougher situation here in the United States. There is an almost total mainstream news blackout of trade policy. The biggest problem is corporate control and censorship of the mainstream media in the US.
According to a study by Media Matters, the biggest network evening news shows in the US have ignored the trade policy debate almost completely. With the big exception being the New York Times. However, though they do cover TTIP, it is too often supporting TTIP.
In the face of the mainstream media blackout, Friends of the Earth US and other TTIP critics on this side of the Atlantic are relying on old fashioned community organising and new fashioned alternative media to inform and mobilise the US public. There has been some movements but it is not easy or quick. We have a long way to go before we can match the kind of success that you have had in Europe.
Gwen Buck: Personally, what do you find most worrying about TTIP? And what would you say to someone who is currently a TTIP supporter?
Bill Waren: The TTIP regulatory review provisions worry me most. They have nothing to do with trade and everything to do with setting up institutions and procedures to effect deregulation.
TTIP would allow foreign investors to sue governments for compensation for the cost of complying with regulations that reduced their investments’ value or future profitability.
There would also be inappropriate use of business-friendly, cost-benefit analysis. This process gives disproportionate weight to quantitative data and economic costs, while diminishing the importance of qualitative benefits such as health, and protecting wild places. Using cost-benefit analysis to quantify costs for environmental regulation can easily be manipulated, and if an environmental benefit cannot be measured in dollars and cents, then its value is unfairly discounted. For example, food safety standards would be lowered if the undervalued “benefit” of protecting the food we eat is outweighed by the “cost” to corporate profits.
In many circumstances it may be impossible to attribute a price to the intrinsic value of human life, living things and nature itself. How does one put a price, discounted to “present value,” on a human life or nature itself?
It’s clear from speaking to Bill Warren that the consequences of TTIP faced in Europe will also be felt in the US; more power to corporations and less to people and planet.
The US has already suffered at the hands of NAFTA, so Americans know what’s at stake. Lets stop standards being lowered on both sides of the Atlantic and say no to TTIP.