Workers' Uniting Steering Committee statement on n...

Workers' Uniting Steering Committee statement on new generation trade agreements

12 February 2015

Workers Uniting congratulates the recent trade union and social movement campaigns against the new generation of trade negotiations (TTIP, CETA, TPP, TiSA) including: 

  • the mobilisation of over 1 million signatories to an e-petition across over 7 member states in a self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP held after an official ECI was denied by the European Commission on the most spurious of grounds

  • the campaign by the US unions against “fast track”, the mechanism by which President Obama with his new found Republican allies will try to push through Congress as unamendable texts firstly the Pacific treaty (TPP) and then the Atlantic deal (TTIP)

  • the statement made by the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, calling for a halt to the TTP negotiations and making the wider point that this and other future trade agreement’s impact on workers need to be considered as a whole.

  • the position of the German and French governments opposing inclusion of ISDS in TTIP. 

The Steering Committee also notes the success of the People’s NHS campaign in the UK in raising public awareness of the specific danger posed to British public health services by the ISDS mechanism in the proposed TTIP agreement. 

But more needs to be done. We must re-double our efforts to educate the public and convince our political masters that a change in approach is essential if we hope to once again get on a path that leads to prosperity for all. 

Our position in opposing these agreements as presently structured is based on the considered view that these negotiations are less about trade and more about enhancing the power of the corporate sector at the expense of workers and their communities. Since the coming to global dominance of neoliberal economics represented by the election of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the corporate sector has constantly been seeking ways to irreversibly cement its grip on economic power.

The defeat of the MAI and the FTAA was the high point of our campaign in the 1990s, but the passing of NAFTA and subsequent agreements using fast track has ushered in the era of ISDS - secret non-judicial courts for the protection of corporate interests. Canada currently faces $6 billion claims by corporations using the ISDS system. 

TPP and TTIP are still at the negotiation stage but we have the text of CETA (it has been “initialled” by Canada and the EU). It uses broad ISDS language to protect corporations so even if a deal is done to remove ISDS from TTIP, because of the ISDS provisions in this treaty with Canada, and the EU treaty with Singapore, US multinationals will be able to sue European governments who take privatised services back into the public sector via their subsidiaries in Canada or Singapore. While some have suggested that ISDS in CETA could be “reformed,” we categorically reject that position, and we call on the European Parliament to vote down CETA.

The Steering Committee also recognises that ISDS is not the only problem with TTIP. The idea of regulatory convergence and a mutual recognition of each bloc's standards in most areas of the economy could launch a race to the bottom by lowering (usually) European standards to those of the US in such crucial areas as food safety, the environment and most particularly on labour rights. This is of paramount importance. We pledge to continue to advocate for concrete measures that will solidify hard fought gains in Europe by demanding that essential worker rights and social protections be extended to the US and Canada through the effective implementation of ILO core labour standards. There are many possible strategies for operationalizing these standards – including the extension of European Works Councils, broadening the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and raising chemical safety standards. A Financial Transaction Tax – already supported by many European states – could fund social development. There are many possible means, but our fundamental insistence that labour and social standards must be harmonised upwards is not negotiable. 

The Steering Group therefore supports the International Trade Union Confederation, many of the global union federations and our unions in Britain, the US, Canada and Ireland currently taking a principled stand against TTIP, TPP, CETA and the other new generation free trade agreements.