Beware of plans for a transatlantic trade and investment pact, warns STEVE MCGIFFEN, because it could mark a disastrous downshift in our living standards and democratic rights
Negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP), the third round of which concluded just before Christmas, are set to resume next month.
They continue to represent, as they have done since the start, much more than a simple easing of trade between the world's two biggest markets.
The length and breadth of the negotiations which began last July, and which still have some way to go, should tell us that something very big is taking place.
The fact that they were preceded or accompanied by well over 100 meetings with corporate lobbyists and none whatsoever with environmental or consumer groups or trade unions, tells us a great deal about what that something is.
The negotiations involve a total of 24 working groups dealing with a range of sectors and topics. The sectors which promise the most direct profit enhancement should agreement be reached - cars and lorries, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and information and telecommunications technologies - are not the only ones overed by the working groups. Labour laws, regulation of financial services and consumer protection are included too.
The propaganda claim is that common rules will be agreed but that care will be taken not to weaken existing protections for working people, consumers and so on.
This is also what we were told when the European Union started its drive towards a single market. It was a lie then and it's a lie now.
All you have to do to see through this lie is consider the only way in which the claim could be true. That, of course, would mean that whichever party had the higher standards would set the bar for both. There are only two ways to make two unequal things equal. You can strengthen the weaker or weaken the stronger.
Given that power is now concentrated in the hands of those whose profits would be eroded by any improvement to labour law - or consumer or environmental protection - it is clear that harmonisation will be downwards.
In most cases this will mean that the EU will have to lower its standards, most of which are embodied in British law.
Another unlikely claim is that the treaty will create 400,000 jobs within the EU. Again, this is reminiscent of the propaganda which preceded Maastricht and has provided the fanfare for every deepening of the EU's single market since.
Unlike the claim that standards won't be lowered, this is not demonstrably false, any more than it's demonstrably true.
What it is, in fact, is idle speculation. How many jobs would there be without the treaty? Unless you can answer that, then should the treaty become law you won't be able to claim it's created 400,000 jobs, or 40,000, or four.
It is the mark of a completely unscientific assertion that it cannot be disproved.
So who knows, maybe it will create jobs. There may be a need to hire people to wash chicken in chlorine, for example, a practice quite rightly illegal throughout the EU and permitted in the US. Chlorine, in case you didn't know, reacts with organic matter, including chickens, to create cancer-provoking compounds.
This is just one example of the way that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now a creature of profit-seeking corporations. Protection for all of us in our role as consumers is weakening throughout most of the EU but it's still a lot stronger than in the US.
Another product banned over here and legal over there is recombinant bovine growth hormone, fed to cattle to make them grow bigger faster. It also increases the rate at which cows produce milk. It is a genetically modified product and has been shown to cause painful conditions in the cows into which it is injected.
So it would be perfectly reasonable to ban it on grounds of animal welfare but there is a fair amount of evidence that it also causes health problems in humans, with possible links to cancer.
None of this evidence is conclusive but therein lies the broader problem.
Though it is often flouted, officially EU law in relation to this kind of issue rests on what is known as the precautionary principle, which states that if an activity, a policy or a product has a suspected risk of causing harm, in the absence of scientific consensus that it is indeed harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those benefiting from it financially.
This is also contained in numerous UN documents but the US has consistently refused to apply it.
This means that beyond all the details to be negotiated lies a clear difference of principle. It is one which has led to far more stringent regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe than is true in the US, which operates what might fairly be called a free-for-all in relation to them.
Perhaps, like a correspondent who wrote in a few years ago to criticise an article I wrote explaining why I don't want to see GMOs used in agriculture, you can't see the problem.
Fine. Let's discuss the matter. If we still don't agree we can try to influence policymakers of the correctness of our conflicting views. We can even become policymakers ourselves. These are the rights of citizens in a democratic society.
If this sounds naive, it's partly because the rights which we enjoy have already been eroded by the shifting of powers from democratically elected bodies in Britain to unelected bodies in Brussels, Frankfurt and Luxembourg.
This is nothing to what will result from the TTIP.
Consumer law, labour protection and environmental protection will henceforth be determined at secret meetings of corporate lawyers.
Member state governments, having agreed to the treaty, will have no means of changing a word of its text unless all 28 of them agree and the US goes along.
The race to the bottom will have taken another massive lurch downwards.