Could County Clare be Ireland’s First TTIP Free Zone?

Could County Clare be Ireland’s First TTIP Free Zone?


eu usWhat is TTIP? If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not surprising – there’s not a lot of mainstream media coverage of this deal. Féidhlim Harty is a writer and environmental consultant living in Clare and explains what the TTIP entails.

Called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, this is a bilateral agreement between the EU and the US. It’s one of a number of international agreements on the table these years, but arguably the most important.

What is it for? Well, if you are a very large Irish company working in the US and you find that local health and safety laws are getting in the way of maximising your profits, you can potentially sue the US for lost earnings and make a packet. That’s all grand of course, but the same works in reverse. If you are a large US company working in Ireland and our minimum wage laws get in the way of maximising your bottom line, you can take your case to the corporate arbitration process and sue Ireland (we’ve seen this before – that means sue the Irish tax-payer) for lost earnings.

The results will quite quickly become an erosion of social protection laws, employment laws, environmental protection laws and health and safety standards. But surely not. Surely that’s all a bit far fetched. Tell that to Canada, who are currently in just such a court for putting a moratorium on fracking. The company that wanted to frack hadn’t lifted a finger to drill – but is arguing that it would have made huge profits if Canada hadn’t made this sensible environmental move to stop the controversial drilling method.

Working the other way around, a Canadian mining company is taking a case against El Salvador for their refusal to grant a licence to drill over a vulnerable water supply. El Salvador is a small, densely populated country, so protection of the water supply is a vital issue of public health. So it’s not a case of one country against another. It’s a case of big business riding roughshod over any country it may choose.

As mad as that seems, these are only two of many many cases that have come to light following more than 3000 free-trade agreements around the world. TTIP would bring in just this sort of arbitration process between the US and EU, so that all our national legislation, national courts, European directives and European Courts would be superseded by the trade agreement process. The deals essentially give carte blanche to large transnational corporations to overrule any hard won legislation to protect citizens, employees or the environment.

Already German environmental laws have been flouted, Egyptian minimum wage legislation successfully stopped, Chevron pollution damages overturned in Ecuador, and Argentina sued for taking back control from the private water company that wasn’t delivering on promises or quality.

This deal is not for small players. It’s not deal designed to help Ireland’s ailing economy. Of all the money paid out in settlements in ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) arbitration, the process used under TTIP, 95% has been awarded to companies with an annual turnover of more than €10bn.

In a nutshell, Ireland can reasonably expect to loose its share of a projected 600,000 job losses throughout the EU. Farming is particularly under threat from both US imports and from the poor quality of US foodstuffs that are queued up for dumping onto the EU market. In the scrabble to keep prices down, it’s easy to see how far our own food standards are likely to drop. Chlorine washed chicken, hormone injected beef and GM cereals are all pretty inevitable items on our menus under the agreement.

Public services such as the national health service, water supply and education are all potentially up for grabs by private companies. Arguing that these are services provided by the state won’t wash if we have an agreement that clearly protects the rights of companies to come in and make a profit from offering a cut price substitute.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the advances made in financial regulation in the US are likely to be rolled back by European banks arguing unfair disadvantage compared to their relatively lax EU markets – and just look at the trouble those lax markets have already landed us in.

Democracy itself is under direct threat. Essentially the rules of play would be decided in courts presided over outside our jurisdiction, and without recourse to any elected body anywhere. These have been described as little more than kangaroo courts with a direct bias towards business interest. Wouldn’t it be somewhat ironic if we quietly passed TTIP in 2016 in the middle of our 1916 celebrations…

Well if it’s passed – hopefully it won’t be quiet. Support throughout Europe is growing stronger by the month. In early February, Clare County Council may be the first county in Ireland to declare itself a TTIP Free Zone if a proposed motion is passed. The timing of the election is actually perfect. Learn a bit more about this online and see which parties are behind TTIP and which ones have actually learned a bit about it…

Féidhlim Harty is a writer and environmental consultant living in Clare.