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Column: What you should know about hushed negotiations taking place between the EU and US

One of the largest free trade agreements to be negotiated in recent times is provoking serious concerns among civil groups.

Matt Carthy

THE TRANSATLANTIC TRADE and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and the EU and according to the negotiators of the treaty, will remove barriers to trade and investment between the two economies. Consequently, TTIP is one of the largest free trade agreements to be negotiated in recent times.

Initial reports from the study commissioned by the Irish Government in relation to the impact that TTIP will have on Ireland suggest that all is rosy in the garden. Preliminary findings from Copenhagan Economics indicate that TTIP could lead to a 1.1% increase in Irish GDP, an increase in exports of 2.7%, an increase in real wages of 1.4% and an increase in investment of 1.6%. Sounds good, so what’s not to like?

Well, for a start, there are very little trade tariffs currently in place between Ireland and the US. Ireland already has a long standing trade relationship with the USA, which accounts for 23% of our exports and 12% of our imports. Irish exports to the US grew year on year by almost 1.3% to some €18.4 billion in 2013. So if trade tariffs aren’t the focus of TTIP, what is?

The short answer is regulation.

Concerns over heavy competition and workers’ rights 

For example, around 70% of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients – US food producers do not operate within the same regulatory framework meaning that they can produce cheaper products which Irish farmers will be forced to compete with. The Minister for Agriculture has already acknowledged his concerns in particular around the Irish beef sector, which is subject to the highest standards and subsequently is world renowned for the quality of its produce – how will Irish farmers be in a position to compete with cheap, hormone filled beef from the US flooding the EU market?

There are huge concerns regarding the secrecy in which the TTIP negotiations have been shrouded. We only became aware of the mandate for the negotiations through a leaked document and subsequent public pressure forced the European Commission, an undemocratically appointed body, to make it publicly available. There are also concerns around workers’ rights as the US economy operates with much lower protection for workers in terms of trade union rights and wages and the European Commission itself acknowledges that TTIP will bring about the “prolonged and substantial” dislocation of EU workers with some commentators suggesting that up to 1 million workers could be affected. And, of course, there is the much hated Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

Do we really want to give investors the ability to sue states?

ISDS allows investors to sue member states outside of the normal courts system, in international investor biased tribunals, for potential loss of revenue. It is currently being used by tobacco giants to sue Australia as a result of that country’s public health measures against smoking.

It is also the mechanism by which Canada is being sued for their moratorium on fracking. The ISDS procedure does not allow for an appeal process and was voted down by the European Parliament when CETA came before it. It is a hugely controversial aspect of TTIP and is opposed widely by civil society, with a petition opposing it having achieved over 850,000 signatures in just one month.

The approach of the Irish Government to the TTIP negotiations to date leaves a lot to be desired. As referred to above, the Irish Government has commissioned a study from Copenhagan Economics into the effects TTIP will have on Ireland. This study has not been finalised yet, nor is it clear when it will be finalised. Despite this fact, the Government has clearly stated its support of TTIP, highlighting selected findings from the study which support a positive view of the negotiations.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Richard Bruton, has even gone so far as to sign a letter supporting the controversial ISDS mechanism without recourse to the Oireachtas. The question arises: can we trust our Government to secure a good deal for Ireland in these negotiations in the absence of a clear analysis of the consequences of TTIP for Ireland and the complete disregard for the legitimate concerns of civil society?

The evidence suggests that the answer to that question is no. We have heard the spin before – in Lisbon we were promised jobs, jobs and more jobs but yet we are still waiting for those jobs. What we did get from Lisbon, though, was reduced power at EU level and the loss of our right of veto in significant areas such as international trade. It has been proven time and time again that this Government will not protect the interests of the Irish people unless they are subjected to sufficient public pressure. It is vital that we debate the issues around TTIP, that we analyse the impact and we ensure that our Government stands up for Ireland’s interests in these negotiations. We cannot afford to “wait and see” – we must act now before it is too late.

Matt Carty is a Sinn Fein MEP.

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Matt Carthy

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