Friday, June 14, 2013

Jockeying for position in the US-EU trade agreement negotiations (Updated)

One of the key tools favored by neoliberal ideology to undermine the job security and incomes of working people is the international trade treaty. As Colin Crouch writes in The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism (2011):

Alongside the growth of the global economy has come an increase in regulatory activity by international agencies whose members comprise national governments and which therefore constitute delegated governmental authority. Since the postwar period, some (but not much) of the work of the United Nations, and the activities of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMP), have had some authority of this kind. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), for long mainly a source of data and statistics on national economies, has gradually acquired more of an international policy-coordinating role - for example, in the field of corruption in governments' business deals with TNCs. Most recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has begun to regulate terms of international trade, though its authority extends more over governments than over corporations. Finally, at a level between the nation-state and the global level itself, there has been a growth of inter-governmental organizations regulating economic affairs in a more detailed way across world regions: the European Union (EU), the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the organization of South American states called Mercosur - though of these only the EU has developed extensive policies across a wide range of fields. Global economic space is therefore not entirely without public regulation, but individual giant firms clearly occupy a more directly regulatory role at this level than at national levels. (p. 128)
International trade agreements when approved by member countries like the US have the force of basic law. In the US, treaties approved by the Senate have the same force as an Amendment to the Constitution itself. International treaties have become an important way for corporations and corporate elites to override the democratic protections and regulations put into place by national governments.

The US is currently actively working on two major new trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a US-EU trans-Atlantic trade agreement. (Update: In the original version of this post, I somehow failed to mention the official name of the projected US-EU treaty, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP) The EU partners are currently jockeying over their collective negotiating position, as Annett Meiritz reports in EU-Verhandlungen mit Washington: Aigner warnt vor Freihandelspakt mit USA Spiegel Online 14.06.2013.

Meiritz discusses what to me are at least mildly encouraging cautionary notes being struck by some European leaders. But since one of them is a member of Angela Merkel's cabinet and the other is the government of François Hollande, who is basically an Angie-bot on all important EU questions, my encouragement is very mild. Still, you take it where you can get it.

Ilse Aigner (CSU), the German Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, is cautioning about allowing a US-EU trade treaty to undermine EU standards for products ranging from food to Internet software. (Transatlantisches Abkommen: Aigner-Ministerium schießt gegen Handelspakt-Pläne Spiegel Online 14.06.2013) Gene-manipulated food products are a much greater consumer concern in Germany than in the US. Hormones and cloned materials in beef are also high on Aigner's list of concerns.

It should go without saying that there are commercial as well as consumer-protection concerns at stake in which companies' oxen (genetically modified or not) will be gored by a Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement.

Hollande is refusing so far to agree to a common negotiating position within the EU, presumably hoping to show the French One Percent he's going to be sufficiently attentive to their particular concerns. He got elected last year and his Socialist Party won a majority in Parliament with working- and middle-class votes. But the role of the center-left parties in the neoliberal scheme is to kick their voters in the teeth as soon as possible after they get elected. This is part of showing that you are a Very Serious Person who deserves high speaking views as highly-paid pretend jobs at hedge funds and the like after your term in office is up.

The "culture industry" in France, such as the movie business, is trying to get exempted from the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement as much as possible.

Anything that slows down another job-killing, wage-lowering, union-busting, deregulating neoliberal trade treaty is welcome news in the short run.

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