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Eurobrief: TTIP under scrutiny

The EU-US free trade agreement, known as TTIP, is coming under increasing pressure as more and more people start to realise what it entails. Top of the list of concerns is the provision for Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS.

An article in ComputerworldUK by journalist Glynn Moody in April sets the tone. “The fact that corporations are regularly placed on the same level as entire nations, and can sue them for alleged loss of future profits, probably came as something of a shock to most people, as it did to me when I first encountered the idea,” he said. “It sounded like the deranged fantasy of some corporate lobbyist, but surely not something that any country would actually accept.”

Moody has been doing some digging, in particular into a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The report shows that most ISDS cases have been taken against companies in EU nations. “That's an important shift, since it shows that ISDS is no longer simply a way for Western countries to bully developing ones, but that the weapon has now been turned against many EU countries, mostly by other EU countries,” he writes. “This suggests that companies are becoming aware of and more comfortable with ISDS as a way of extracting money from EU governments.”

Most cases globally are actually taken by US companies. That is why an appearance by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht in an obscure EU committee is particularly interesting. He went before the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament in April to explain what he’s getting up to – he’s the lead negotiator on TTIP.

Asked why he was negotiating an agreement with ISDS – which makes companies rich at the expense of taxpayers – he started backtracking. “[ISDS] is not a point of my religion,” he said. “If the United States agreed to simply drop it and have all the existing agreements so be it, but they don’t. I already submitted it to them and they don’t.”

What kind of a negotiation is it if one side doesn’t appear to have any sticking point? Why not tell the US to get lost? And, of course, for us in Britain, why let the EU negotiate for us?