Three Scary Trade Deals

Finding hard data on transnational corporations’ share of world trade is complicated. Perhaps the data is scarce because it is not in corporations’ interests to highlight the extent of their private trade flows, but whatever the reason, accurate information for the public is limited. The ‘shadow’ website, which sharply criticises the World Trade Organisation (WTO), estimated[i] that just the 200 largest multinationals accounted for 28% of global trade. In corporations’ eyes, that was nowhere near enough. They want to grow, grow, grow, but the WTO’s Doha Round talks drag on and on inconclusively, and they became impatient.

So talks on three huge neoliberal trade agreements are currently under way, as far below public consciousness as possible. They would embody staggering concessions to corporations, in the form of investment treaties enabling corporations to sue governments for policy changes detrimental to corporate interests.

The first of the Super Three is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), between the USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. Talks, which began in 2008, explore means of opening intellectual property and public services to open competition.

Secondly, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), involving the EU and 20 other countries, came on the horizon in 2012. TISA would cover health, education, energy, water and drainage services, construction, finance, banking, insurance, transport and retailing, opening them all up to corporate competition. Such a deal would surely mean the end of public control of the UK’s National Health Service, because corporations would be able to sue governments for policy changes they disliked.

Summer 2013 saw the launch of talks between the EU and the USA on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The theme is competition right across the economy, including health and education, with corporations empowered to challenge prudent regulations, including regulation of finance, as barriers to trade.

Just why governments are so keen to hand power over to corporations is hard to fathom, unless politicians feel they are all on the same side – the side of private exploitation. Policy changes to which corporations objected would be impossible, unless the offending government, at the very least, paid compensation at full ‘market’ value plus compound interest.

Today’s generation of politicians and their negotiators are, it seems, intent on signing away democratic rights in perpetuity. How come they feel empowered to do this? Because they rely on people, us, not objecting in sufficient numbers to make a difference.


[i], accessed on November 6th 2010.


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