What if a trade deal died and nobody noticed? The presidential campaign trail has been awash in angry backlash against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a slew of controversial free-trade deals that symbolize to American voters the evils of corporate globalization. But another trade deal collapsed silently on the other side of the globe. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was supposed to be the Atlantic world’s analog to the TPP, but after three years of frustrated negotiations, it was just pronounced dead by key ministers, or at least temporarily moribund, overwhelmed by a phalanx of populist opposition across the continent. How’d that happen?
Though smaller in scope than the TPP, TTIP paralleled the Pacific agreement in that it built on trade-agreement proposals that had stalled in previous discussions, ultimately collapsed during the round of World Trade Organization negotiations that began in 2001, and have fizzled out in the years since. EU and US trade ministers had hoped to sell it as a boon to global trade. But an increasingly cynical European public wasn’t buying it, seeing it instead as another pathway to more deregulation and corporate impunity.
Following months of gridlock and protests, and despite a meeting scheduled for next month in New York to continue discussions, negotiations have effectively ground to a halt. (October’s meetings are apparently aimed at redirecting talks toward a smaller-scale, preliminary pact as a substitute to the full TTIP. This is seen as progress, if not outright victory, for campaigns mobilizing against the EU free trade agenda deal by deal.)
It could be that corporate lobbyists and ministers are just hoping for a more opportune political climate, but the demise of this version of TTIP illustrates that, in real-life political terms, trade deals could mostly prove useless at best for trade and devastating at worst for democracy.
TTIP, perhaps more than previous global trade pacts, was aimed at “harmonizing” corporate governance between the economies of wealthy trade partners. The deal, which was renamed a “partnership” instead of the more NAFTA-esque original title, Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, would impose uniform rules to facilitate capital flow, not so much by changing trade policies but rather by roping all the signatories under one umbrella of corporate governance.