Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Start monitoring TAFTA (a.k.a. TTIP); or WHY ARE THEY NEGOTIATING in SECRET?

TAFTA (Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement), also known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), is a new, and very secret trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and E.U. It mirrors an earlier attempt in a provision of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), in the mid- to late 1990's to work out an agreement among the 29 members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). But they made the mistake back then of letting the word get out. And public opinion was VERY STRONGLY against it. So this time, they are negotiating in deepest secrecy.

Wow! This sounds familiar. A lot like what happened when some copyright holders convinced the U.S. Congress into recent attempts to sew up the intellectual property rights to the Internet with PIPA and SOPA. Then followed COICA and ACTA. Remember those ill-considered bills and treaties? Google and Facebook, Wikipedia and a number of other leading social media and search engine sites really led an effort to educate the public and lobby Congress about what terrible bills these were -- that the way they were written would cripple all the good things that make the Internet a real hub of commerce and intellectual ferment and creativity.

This time (and in the 1990's), the agreement is a work-around that achieves all the goodies that were on the checklists for those bills. A few whispers are trickling out. This link from Canada, sees the European public's point of view, where it seems as though American business is shoving changes down their throats so they can sell to them the shoddy goods that are now banned by the EU's superior regulatory schemes.

EFF, bless their hearts, are tracking this, and, of course, are looking at it from the Internet perspective (here is EFF's page link for TAFTA):

... a newly leaked document from La Quadrature du Net shows how EU delegates intend to set rules around liability for Internet Service Providers and regulations over the transfer and processing of users’ personal online data, as well as rules to set a “uniform approach” to cyber security across the region. While the document makes no mention of copyright enforcement, other statements lead us to believe that it will also be included.

U.S. and European delegates will negotiate TAFTA secretly, mirroring the same undemocratic processes that led to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, TAFTA’s objective is to address a wide range of cross-border regulatory issues under one overarching agreement
(here is La Quadrature du Net's page link for TAFTA in English) Possibly it is lucky for us and the developing world that the negotiations may have broken down over the scandal of U.S. spying on our European allies. The word at EFF, back in July, 2013, on the U.S.- EU negotiations over TAFTA, was the European leaders' exclaiming over how impossible it was to continue trade talks in the atmosphere of cold-war tactics like NSA surveillance of friendly leaders. Thank you, NSA!

However, the English edition of the left-wing French monthly newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique (an independent subsidiary of the daily Le Monde, which may be better known to our readers), provides an in-depth report and alert about the negotiations dated December 2, 2013. This report takes a much broader view of the focus of TAFTA than EFF, which truly focuses on just the impact it could have on Internet companies and users. It appears that TAFTA would require the United States, not just federal but also state and local laws to do something very like the E.U. harmonization principle, where the member states must bring their local laws into agreement with the European Union agreed law. So it would impact American law and citizens as well as EU consumers. Here is a segment from Le Monde Diplomatique:

The obligation of signatory countries to “ensure conformity of their laws, regulations and administrative procedures” to these terms would be strongly enforced. They would certainly be keen to honour the terms, since failure to do so would subject countries to legal challenges before tribunals specially created to arbitrate between investors and states, and having the power to authorise trade sanctions against the latter.

This is in line with other trade pacts already in force. Last year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) condemned the US over its rules on the “dolphin-safe” labelling of tuna and country-of-origin labelling of meat, and for banning candy-flavoured cigarettes, which it ruled were barriers to free trade. The WTO also ordered the EU to pay hundreds of millions of euros in penalties over its ban on imports of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods. The TTIP/TAFTA and the TPP would allow foreign companies to attack any signatory country whose policies impacted on their profits.

Companies would be able to demand compensation from countries whose health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies they thought to be undermining their interests, and take governments before extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals, organised under World Bank and UN rules would have the power to order taxpayers to pay extensive compensation over legislation seen as undermining a company’s “expected future profits”. [snip]

The US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope, two of the world’s largest business organisations, have called on TIPP-TAFTA negotiators to arrange for major industry stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic to be “at the table with regulators to essentially co-write regulation.”

The corporate interests have been remarkably candid about their goals, for example rolling back GMO regulation. [snip]

The offensive is equally vigorous over personal privacy. The Digital Trade Coalition, a group of high-tech and Internet companies, has encouraged TTIP/TAFTA negotiators to ensure that EU data privacy policies do not encumber the flow of personal data into the US. After the recent revelations of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) indiscriminate data spying programmes, the tech corporations’ statement that “the current judgment of the EU that the US does not provide ‘adequate’ privacy protection is not reasonable” seems particularly outrageous. The US Council for International Business, which includes companies such as Verizon that have handed vast quantities of personal data over to the NSA, has stated: “The agreement should seek to circumscribe exceptions, such as security and privacy, to ensure they are not used as disguised barriers to trade.”

Food safety is also a target. The US meat industry is seeking to use the TTIP/TAFTA to remove the EU ban on the post-slaughter dipping of meat in chlorine. The North American Meat Association laments that “only the application of water and steam are permitted for use on meat carcasses by the EU.” [snip]

Ractopamine is a drug used to promote leanness of meat in cattle and pigs. It has been banned or limited in 160 nations (including EU member states, Russia and China) due to potential risks to human and animal health. The National Pork Producers Council sees these protective measures as a distortion of the principle of free trade that the TIPP-TAFTA must rectify urgently: “US pork producers will not accept any outcome other than the elimination of the EU ban on the use of ractopamine in the production process.” [snip]

Airlines for America (A4A), the biggest US airline industry association, has drawn up a list of “needless regulations [that] impose a substantial drag on our industry” — which they hope can be dismantled via the TTIP/TAFTA. First is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, Europe’s central climate change policy, which required airlines to pay for carbon emissions. A4A labels the policy a “barrier to progress,” ... [snip]

But the most determined enemy of regulation is the financial sector. Five years after the global financial crisis, the US and EU negotiators have agreed that regulation has had its day. The framework they want to put in place would remove all safeguards on high-risk investments and prevent governments from controlling the volume, nature or origin of financial products on the market. Basically, the word “regulation” would be removed from the dictionary.

Where has this return to Thatcherism come from? The Association of German Banks has “concerns” about the (timid) reform of Wall Street after the financial crisis of 2008. The association includes Deutsche Bank, which received hundreds of billions of dollars from the US Federal Reserve in 2009, in exchange for mortgage-backed securities. Deutsche Bank takes issue with the Volcker Rule, a centrepiece of the Wall Street reform, calling it “much too extraterritorially burdensome for non-US banks”. Insurance Europe, a federation of European insurance firms, has stated its hope that the TIPP-TAFTA can be used to “remove” collateral requirements that keep financial firms from taking on high-risk investments.
I recommend you read the two links (EFF & Le Monde Diplomatique) and look for more information. This will hugely remake our world if it actually is negotiated. There is very little evidence that it will improve Gross Domestic Product (there is a section at the end of the LMD article about this), so it will really only benefit the CEOs at the top of the corporations, quite possibly not even the shareholders.

Here is another link: Public, Huffington Post follows TAFTA, Food and Water Watch on TAFTA, Tumblr TAFTA links, and, from the other side, TAFTA,The Case for an Open Transatlantic Free Trade Area, a 300 page booklet in PDF format by Jaime Garcia Lagaz and Joseph Quinlan for the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis (FAES, which seems to be from Spain, since the booklet was printed there, though the booklet is English with an American flag decorating the cover of, at least, this edition).

I must credit the fabulous image decorating this blog post. I found it at where the blogger, Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, is discussing the problems with the Unitary Patent. The image of an EU flag with a hand grabbing across it, and symbols of law, were just too perfect for this blog post. Thank you, Rick and kudos to you or whomever created this awesome image for your blog post!

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