An editorial posted earlier this week on The Parliament Magazine website written by Italian MEP Eleonora Forenza titled EU-US free trade agreement risks undermining democracy provides a fairly good illustration of why many people are justifiably dismissive of what some have described as the Left’s “hysteria” concerning the proposed Transatlantic Trade Partnership (TTIP) that is long on complaints but short on both intellectual coherence and proposals for new arrangements.
Just to provide some background on the perspective shaping Forenza’s views, the 38 year-old politician from the south of Italy heads up communications for the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) and sits in the European Parliament as part of the 52 member Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). She is also a member of the parliament’s Committee on International Trade.
In her article, Forenza argues that “TTIP represents an empowerment of corporations against the interest of citizens.” After first noting that the protests in Europe last month by “thousands of citizens, social movements and NGOs” were motivated in part by a rejection of how the negotiations are being carried out – “the lack of transparency and the undue influence of corporate power is apparent to all,” she claims – Forenza then launches into a litany of now-familiar grievances about TTIP. Or actually, to be more accurate, hypothetical speculation about the potentially harmful threats posed by the EU-US trade pact.
The deal she says “will not only be about reducing tariffs, but it will deeply impact our environmental, food, social and labour laws through the revision of regulatory frameworks. This will also be done through a strong liberalisation of the services sector, with the risk of undermining the social and environmental mission that many of these services play in European societies, for example, public transport, water management, healthcare and educational services, that traditionally are more protected in Europe than the US.”
The controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) naturally comes in for especially harsh criticism. She asks readers to “Imagine if 14,000 US firms had the possibility to sue EU member states through their almost 58,000 branches legally established in Europe, especially in fields such as GMOs, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, medical, and ICT industries.” The ISDS dispute panels would, she asserts, make decisions “disregarding values such as public health, human rights, environmental protection, labour and other social rights.” As such, the arbitration represents “a clear blemish on the powers of our democratic institutions and risks reducing the room for any social or economic actions in the coming decades.”
For these reasons, Forenza concludes by saying “we are supporting, together with hundreds of policymakers, social movements and NGOs the idea of an alternative trade mandate that puts people and the planet before big business.” Unfortunately, anyone seeking more elaboration on the exact nature or policy specifics regarding the “alternative trade mandate” to which she refers will be sadly disappointed. It is, apparently, nothing more than an “idea” at this stage – and a remarkably shallow one at that.
Contrast Forenza’s vague and unsubstantiated fear-mongering about TTIP to the pitch being made by boosters of the trade deal such as Mark Brzezinski, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, who has been travelling around Europe in recent weeks promoting TTIP’s benefits to local business groups.
A manufacturer of 3-D printers said he was eyeing an export deal with a U.S. company but the American contract stipulates that any dispute would be subject to New York laws and he feared he would be unable to afford lawyers’ fees. An industrial washing machine salesman grumbled about overheads: sending a U.S. customer a 70-euro component costs him 40 euros in taxes, and the certification to sell machines in the U.S. can cost him more than $2,000. An auto parts company executive complained transatlantic shipping is pricey, and a software developer was frustrated by how hard it is to place engineers for short periods at their U.S.-based projects.
The ambassador told them all: TTIP is made for you.
The agreement, he said, would take legal issues out of courts by using a projected Investor Dispute Settlement Mechanism. It would also scrap tariffs, ensure mutual recognition of product certification, and bring higher trade volume that would lower shipping costs. The European Commission, meanwhile, is pressing to get more skilled professionals allowed into the United States.
While some of the concerns about TTIP are not entirely without a certain degree of legitimacy, many of the charges made by critics are either simply false or wildly overblown. Absent any constructive alternative agenda for addressing the real-world problems currently faced by internationally-active businesses trading on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s difficult to take seriously the anti-capitalist demagoguery of Leftist politicians such as Forenza, particularly when all they have to offer instead are empty platitudes about putting people and the planet before big business.