Take a moment to perform a thought experiment. Imagine an energy company has begun to use a new method to extract gas from the ground. This method provides (finite) energy, but is incredibly harmful to people, animals and the environment. Animals lose their hair, chemical-laden drinking water becomes flammable and previously healthy people begin to experience migraines, seizures and increased rates of cancer. The country’s government finds evidence linking the energy company to these serious health concerns. As a result, the company loses out on profit. The company then sues the government, and wins.
This sounds crazy, but an EU-US trade agreement due to be passed in October could allow this unjust scenario to come true. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement which seeks to remove trade barriers and alter trade regulations, making it easier to import and export goods between the EU and US. By avoiding differences that hinder trade, businesses will pay fewer tariffs when selling their goods in foreign markets, and consumers will benefit from increased choice and reduced prices. The official line is that this trade agreement will bring ‘jobs, prosperity and growth’. But what else will it bring?
Firstly, the TTIP aims to align EU and US importing and exporting standards, which could result in EU standards being reduced to allow for US imports. This would allow US food exports produced to different standards to be sold on the EU market. However the EU does state that it will “keep its restrictions on hormones or growth promoters in livestock farming”, that “the TTIP will not affect EU animal welfare laws” and “growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is subject to an authorisation process in line with EU law, and TTIP will not change this law”. Phew.
But hang on. The US notes that “US food and agricultural exports to the world reached an all-time high in 2013 of over $145 billion. In that year, we sent just over $10 billion of agricultural exports to the EU, a figure that can and should be much higher. Our goal in TTIP is to help U.S. agricultural sales reach their full potential by eliminating tariffs and quotas that stand in the way of exports”.
Let’s consider a few US agricultural facts. Virtually all US beef cattle, dairy cows and pigs are fed genetically engineered soybeans covered in a Monsanto-developed weedkiller called Roundup Ready that has been found to cause human cell death. 95% of all US eggs come from caged eggs, a practice which increases salmonella rates. A hormone banned in Europe called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is injected into US cows to increase milk production, which increases insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels in the milk. A study in the Lancet (1998) found that women with even a relatively small increase in IGF-1 levels are 7 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those with lower levels, and it has also been implicated in colon and pancreatic cancer. These are just three examples, but I could go on.
These are terrifying, but incontrovertible facts. Considering the scale of these practices in the US, and their goal to drastically increase exports to the EU, I find it difficult to believe that the EU could prevent any trace from entering our market.
Secondly, the TTIP aims to introduce Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). These encourage US investment in the EU, which sounds great. But they do this because they allow companies to sue governments if the government policies cause a loss of profits. And we all know that what is good for people is not necessarily good for profits. Legislation protecting the environment, animals’ welfare, workers’ rights and the health and safety of citizens could be under threat if they’re negative for a company’s pocket. Remember that story from the introduction? That actually happened. In Canada, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allowed a fracking company to sue the Canadian government for $250 million. This cost 700,000 jobs in the US and caused increased poverty in Mexico. Closer to home, in Germany, a Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. None of this cries ‘prosperity’ to me.
The bottom line is that this treaty will undermine government policies, policies put in place to protect the rights of its people and the environment. Trade agreements are made in the interest of corporations to increase profit, weakening food regulations, workers’ rights and environmental protection practices. Even if the EU promises that they won’t be weakened, why should we trust them if we aren’t even given a chance to vote on this?
Words like ‘treaty’, ‘trade’, and ‘regulation’ can seem boring, I know. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the dull yet complicated jargon is used to distance us, breeding insecurity and causing us to refrain from delving deeper into these issues. But we have to, because they concern us all.
If you, like me, err on the side of caution with the TTIP, join the other 10,000 Irish people who already have and sign this petition; https://stop-ttip.org/sign/. Take part in the Global Day of Action against TTIP on April 18th at 10.30 on Middle Abbey Street, or create your own event https://stop-ttip.org/blog/global-day-of-action-on-18-april-2015/.
Please research this yourself, tell your friends and form your own judgment, because we can’t let this go under the radar #April18DoA