Stop · Halt · Arrêtez · Στάση · Stad TTIP

Many trade unions are calling for CETA, the Canadian-European trade agreement, and TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to be stopped and scrapped; and here is why.

In summary the concern of ICTU is that TTIP is a manifestation of an aggressive neo-liberalism aimed at so circumscribing the policy space for governments that policies will be separated from economics such that it will not matter what government is elected. It will, in other words, complete the subjugation of society to markets. Moreover, this issue has to be seen in the context of a European integration project which has lost a lot of its legitimacy in the eyes of workers over the last few years of austerity policies.

David Begg, then general secretary of the ICTU, November 2014

The former general secretary of the ICTU summarised well the concerns of many people throughout Europe that TTIP, and the regressive trend of many international trade agreements, including the CETA, will render states, and democratic governments, unable to promote policies that impinge on the more fundamental and better-protected rights of capital. Regardless of who is elected or what people want in a society, these legal agreements will greatly restrict the ability of states to change course or to encompass the needs, aims and aspirations of people if they contradict those of big business and profits.

This led to unions in Ireland adopting positions, individually and collectively through the ICTU. The ICTU conference of affiliate unions in 2015 passed the following motion, making this formal ICTU policy.

Conference therefore resolves that the trade union movement should now call for the TTIP negotiations to be halted and make it clear that workers will never accept any trade agreement that doesn’t promote decent jobs and growth and safeguard labour, consumer, environmental and health and safety standards. Conference calls for continuation of lobbying, campaigning and negotiating on these matters . . .

The TEEU has stated that

the provisions would also attack workers’ rights, erode social standards and environmental regulations and threaten our democratic institutions by asserting the primacy of the interests of business corporations over those of nation states and their people; would dilute food safety rules; undermine regulations on the use of toxic chemicals; rubbish digital privacy laws and strangle developing economies and while being supportive of genuine trade agreements, resolves that the TEEU oppose the ratification and implementation of this agreement at all forums in which it participates; inform the relevant government agencies of our opposition to TTIP; encourage other trade unions to join us in opposition and calls for its scrapping.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers has called support for TTIP misguided; the Irish Medical Organisation has serious concerns about the effect it might have on our health service, as do both Age Action and the Irish Cancer Society. Other Irish unions, including the teachers’ unions, NIPSA, and Unite, have also made statements against TTIP.

On the basis of the ICTU policy position on TTIP, the ICTU has set up a campaign committee comprising a strong cross-section of both public and private-sector unions, which will be actively campaigning against TTIP and raising public awareness of both CETA and TTIP in 2016.

So, clearly the union movement in Ireland has serious concerns about both CETA and TTIP and is calling for the negotiations to be halted, and some for TTIP to be scrapped altogether. What are the main concerns?

Regulatory convergence

Sounds complicated, but basically regulatory convergence means the coming together of regulatory standards between the EU and the United States. Now, as most regulations in the EU are for a higher standard than those in the United States, this can really only mean a lowering of standards in Europe. And far from being merely more “red tape” for business, some of these regulations are our most important protections on workers’ rights, human rights, food safety, car safety, capital/lending ratios, environmental standards, and more.

How will this happen?

Mutual recognition

Firstly, through the mutual recognition and acceptance of each other’s standards. So the United States will be able to export goods into the EU without modification or change. This will lead to the introduction of lower-standard products and services made in lower-cost environments, which will put downward pressure on EU standards.


Once both standards are in each other’s markets, then it is proposed that these standards should be harmonised to one set. Now, at this point you will have massive lobbying from big business in both the EU and the United States, which have a common cause in reducing the standards to the American or lowest level. Harmonisation will not be upward.

And co-operation

From then on an undemocratic board of both the EU and the United States would monitor all future regulatory proposals on either side of the Atlantic. Not only is this a corporate assault on democracy but it would not increase or strengthen regulations, and so the bar would be set at a low standard, with massive implications for our health and rights and, to be blunt, the future of humanity itself, given the environmental crisis, which  this would only exacerbate.

Investor protections

The ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) mechanism is a private court, made up of corporate lawyers, who judge on disputes between investors and states over the loss of profits, or even future profits, as a result of state actions. The ISDS in CETA or (if one is included) in TTIP would allow corporations from outside a state to sue that state if its actions negatively affect the corporation’s profits. So, for example, a positive policy on cigarette packaging leaves a state liable to be sued for loss of future profits. This has really happened, and a private ISDS awarded the corporation compensation. This means that change of government can happen so long as it doesn’t change policy! It’s the final hollowing out of democracy.

Removal of the precautionary principle

The precautionary principle exists in the EU. This means that in the EU something needs to be proved safe before it can be introduced to the market. It’s a safeguard against the introduction of anything dangerous. It places our safety before corporate profits. In the United States the opposite situation exists: a product can be released after minimal testing, and to be removed it must be proved dangerous. This means that a dangerous or damaging product can be left available while evidence has to be collected. It puts corporations before people.

Are there benefits?

Some will tell us this is positive for trade, jobs, and growth, and so we should support it. The reality is that there are very few remaining trade barriers between the EU and the United States; and if this was this focus of the treaty they could be dealt with in a much easier, less controversial and less damaging agreement. But the real prize for corporations is not tariffs and taxes but what are known as non-tariff barriers—and these are our rights and protections. This is what TTIP is being designed to get rid of. But even the most positive analysis of the maximum reduction of barriers show only negligible, minuscule growth, while some studies say there will actually be massive job “displacement” in Europe and even a net loss of jobs.

The benefits of TTIP, just like NAFTA, will be to big corporations, at our expense. If TTIP is allowed to continue and passes in the way it is shaping up, then it will be passed at our expense and the expense of democracy and the environment. In this year of the centenary of the 1916 Rising we must not allow the greatest robbery of our sovereignty, freedom and democracy to happen.