the EU and US will start the second round of negotiations on
what could be the biggest trade deal ever seen. They present
us with a stark choice: do we want the rules that govern our
society to be decided by government, or by big business?
to this is a thing called an 'investor-state dispute
mechanism' (ISDS), which allows companies to sue states if
they feel their investment has been negatively affected by
government policy decisions. This is what Philip Morris is
using to sue Uruguay and Australia for their policy of plain
packaging on cigarettes. Philip Morris argue the policies
are an infringement of their 'intellectual property' rights
- i.e. they are not able to use their logo on the packets.
It is what Vodafone is using to sue India for changes to its
tax policy and what Churchill Mining are using to sue
Indonesia for taking them off a mining contract following a
campaign to save an area of rainforest because it is home to
some of the world's last remaining Orang-utans.
cases will be heard behind closed doors, by three commercial
lawyers and may directly challenge government policy making.
Current investment treaties are so vaguely worded that the
decisions rely heavily on the opinion of these lawyers -
there is often little continuity between decisions, making
it difficult for countries to predict the outcome of cases.
interesting is that the argument has always been that ISDS
is needed because poor old investors need protecting from
weak or unreliable legal systems when they benevolently seek
to invest their hard-earned cash overseas. Yet there are
moves to include ISDS in the EU-US deal, where it is
difficult to imagine that the legal systems are not
above might be enough to make you think this kind of
mechanism should be avoided at all costs. However it's also
important to recognise that it would have a direct impact on
our daily lives.
example, right now it matters what we think about NHS
privatisation. If the current commissioning set-up (as of
2012 Commissioners have to open services up to full
competition) turned out not to work, in theory, we could
lobby our MPs to change it. Under ISDS, that would cease to
be possible. The huge and powerful US health industry could
throw its significant resources behind a case and argue that
changes to our policy of opening up the NHS to private
companies had hurt their investment. This could see the
government shelling out millions, if not billions of
dollars. The threat of this kind of payout is on its own
enough to make governments think twice about policy change.
same applies to a whole raft of issues: who we want to
control internet access, whether or not we want to have
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our diet, what kind
of banking system we want.
its 'special relationship' with the US, the UK will play a
key role in these negotiations but also stands to be most
impacted. Yet politicians are certainly not bringing the
debate to the public. With such far-reaching implications,
it is time that that people in both the EU and the US were
properly involved in deciding whether they want this deal
and what should be included.