This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Earlier this month in Brussels, US and EU negotiators held a fourth round of secret talks on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The agreement would remove so-called “trade barriers” between the United States and Europe by eliminating tariffs and weakening the regulatory authority of nation-states.
The talks in Brussels come on the heels of a new public relations push by the Obama administration. In February, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, speaking at the Center for American Progress (CAP), outlined the administration’s new “values-driven” trade agenda. Ostensibly stronger on labor and environmental standards, the approach promises to boost job growth at home by removing foreign tariffs on US exports.
Given that already ballooning corporate profits have not created a US jobs boom, an increase in corporate export profits is unlikely to help. What’s more, recent trade agreements have failed to increase US exports in the first place.
But engaging this argument misses the real issue. TTIP is much less about reducing tariffs, which are already fairly low between the United States and the EU, and more about weakening the power of average citizens to defend themselves against corporate labor and environmental abuses.
The key issue on this point is a controversial TTIP provision called Investor-State Dispute Settlement. ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue governments before special international tribunals over domestic laws that interfere with corporate profits. The tribunals are not accountable to any national public or democratically elected body. Corporations around the world are using similar ISDS provisions under existing trade agreements to extract taxpayer money from national governments. Actual or potential government losses then serve as strong deterrents to future public interest legislation.
At CAP, Froman accused trade critics of being stuck in the past. Trade policy has “evolved” substantially since the 1990s, he said, and new trade agreements will not only take into account labor and environmental concerns, but will actually raise standards.