“We don’t want a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots. We don’t want an international order akin to post-democracy or post-law.”
With these words the UK newspaper The Guardian quotes Mr. Alfred de Zayas in its article published on 4 May, 2015. Mr. de Zayas was talking about the dangers of mega trade deals, specifically about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is currently negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA). Mr. de Zayas is not only a concerned citizen, but he spoke in his role as the United Nations’ Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. Since May 2012, he researches on how democracy and equality between states can be furthered and reports to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations – the council where state representatives discuss human rights issues. Now, he has come to the conclusion that secretly negotiated trade deals threaten human rights.
On the same 4 May, Germany’s Orchestra Association protested against TTIP by playing the Ode of Joy as an Ode to Politics demanding a halt of negotiations.
Less than two weeks before this protest, the Global Trade Day on 25 April brought thousands of people to the streets in Germany, with 550 events taking place in Europe and around 750 events taking place in 45 countries. But what exactly is going on? Why are people taking to the streets to protest against trade? Isn’t trade already smartly run by the World Trade Organisation? Will these things called CETA and TTIP really impact your life? Do you actually need to know what these weird abbreviations stand for?
This post introduces a new series in Bizolutioners to shed some light on one, if not the most important issue in Business and Human Rights: mega “free trade” deals, namely the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Both the EU and the USA claim that TTIP will be a free trade agreement: enabling the EU and USA to trade goods without any tariffs and non-tariff barriers which have the same effect like tariffs. This is said to allow consumers the best quality for the lowest price. While it is arguable whether free trade agreements really have this impact, we do not actually know what is debated: the negotiations are secret – media and democratically elected representatives like the Members of the European Parliament are excluded from attending negotiations. The documents are not publicly accessible. We are only informed when negotiation rounds take place – the last one was the ninth negotiation round in New York, 20-23 April 2015.
The absence of clarity regarding TTIP is extensive: we do not know the actual content of the negotiations between the USA and the EU; neither do we know how it will impact the daily lives of European and American citizens; equally unclear is what citizens can do – for instance through courts – to gain more information for the benefit of the interested public. Anything related to TTIP quickly gets covered with vagueness, complexity and uncertainty.
I am a person who gets very suspicious when somebody claims they exclusively act in my best interest, but that it is not my concern to know what they are doing ‘for me’. TTIP is a prime example of this logic. The limited amount of leaked information and analyses, and conclusions drawn from similar trade agreements points towards this: TTIP represents the tip of the iceberg in a development to dramatically lower the standard of living in Western Europe! This is why in many countries, and in Germany marchers have protested against TTIP.
Together with Mr de Zayas and many civil society activists and academics, I am convinced: TTIP is the most important Business and Human Rights issue of the present moment.
Living in a small German town where activist groups work against TTIP on the grassroots and at the council level, it took me roughly two months to get acquainted with the biggest issues around TTIP. In the last months, I have seen too many people overwhelmed by the many question marks which pop up in their minds when they try to grasp what TTIP is about. It is paralysing if you are confronted with a problem which requires in-depth analysis while you lack the tools to tackle it. That’s why I want to start a series informing about the different aspects and problems around TTIP – one for every post. The next post will start shedding light on the content of TTIP: is it really a “free trade” agreement – or is there something else behind it?
If you have any questions about TTIP you would like to have answered, or want to learn more about a specific aspect, please use our Bizolutioners email! Also email us if you are working on TTIP, CETA, TISA, TPP, EPAs or any other mega trade deals and would like to join!