Good News In The Reported Collapse of U.S.-Europe Trade Talks

Isaiah J. Poole

News out of Germany that U.S. trade negotiations with Europe similar to the one that produced the Trans-Pacific Partnership have collapsed is another sign that an organized grassroots is successfully putting the multinational corporate trade agenda on its heels.

Britain’s Independent, in an article published Monday, quotes Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel as saying free trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States have failed, but that “nobody is really admitting it.”

The trade deal is called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. It is being negotiated between the U.S. and the members of the European Union. Discussions have been going on at the same time the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal that includes several Asian countries as well as Western Hemisphere nations, was being forged.

The BBC published an article on its website Monday with a headline framing the TTIP collapse as a question rather than a declarative fact, but noted in its story, “There are many critics who hope Mr Gabriel’s assessment is right.”

Among those critics is Global Justice Now, which released a statement Monday that said: “The fact that TTIP has failed is testament to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against it, the three million people who signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped, and the huge coalition of civil society groups, trade unions and activists who came together to stop it.”

Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch told today that Gabriel’s comment “is giving voice to what a lot of people are saying privately” about the prospects of the trade deal.

A key reason, she said, is opposition to provisions similar to the those in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would allow multinational corporations to sue governments in a special court over regulations the corporations believe would adversely affect their profits.

There was real concern in Europe that American-based corporations would “be using TTIP to weaken safeguards on food safety and financial regulations” using its investor-state dispute settlement provisions, St. George said.

That concern had been expressed in massive demonstrations in Germany and some other European Union countries, she said. The referendum in Great Britain to break ties with the European Union, the so-called “Brexit” – contributed to the undermining of the TTIP negotiations.

Adding to the opposition is the lawsuits filed by energy companies against the German government when it decided to phase out the use of nuclear power after the March 2011 nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Among the corporations that challenged the decision is Vattenfall, which is wholly owned by the Swedish government but operates in several European countries. The fear is that a ratified TTIP treaty would make it far more difficult, if not impossible, for the German government to take such actions as decommissioning nuclear power plants regardless of the safety and environmental factors driving the decision.

With the bipartisan opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the United States, this sets a global stage for redoing how trade deals are negotiated – not in back rooms by a handful of corporate lobbyists, but in an open process involving all of the stakeholders who are affected by global trade, and who care about how workers, consumers and the environment are affected by the terms of global trade.

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