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Transatlantic trade negotiators and trade justice activists square off in Brussels

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As we announced on Friday, I'm here in Brussels this week with Council of Canadians Executive Director Garry Neil and RQIC coordinator Pierre-Yves Serinet for a transatlantic NGO strategy session on the EU trade deals with the United States and Canada. The occasion is a fourth round of EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations also happening this week. About 80 organizations from Europe, the United States and Canada are here to talk about the threats to democracy, climate change, workers and consumers from this WTO-plus and CETA-plus agreement.

The picture above is from a corporate lobbying tour around the European Commission's neighbourhood this evening organized by Corporate Europe Observatory, a lobbying watchdog whose reports on the TTIP, and especially its planned investment protection chapter, have contributed enormously to what can only be described as a European awakening to the many problems with giving companies and investors the right to sue governments when public interest measures upset investment opportunities.

The TTIP (or TAFTA) will expand on many of the chapters that have been agreed to in the Canada-EU CETA, including on regulatory cooperation, investment protection, technical barriers to trade and incorporating labour and environmental standards. Those chapters and more are, as of Friday, available online at eu-secretdeals.info -- a hugely important source of new leaked TTIP and CETA texts that is trying to draw public attention to the investment chapters and investor-state dispute settlement process in both agreements. Garry and I will be drawing from them frequently in discussions this week about the TTIP.

But please, if you have the time, take a look at them and send a note to Peter Fuchs, site coordinator. The EU Secret Deals site is meant to be a dialogue on investor-state dispute settlement, and to feed into the European Commission's planned consultation on the investment protection chapter in the TTIP. You'll find three important new reports on the CETA investment chapters on the site -- very useful for helping us make the case in Canada why CETA goes further than previous investment treaties, including NAFTA, in protecting corporations from government regulation. They are:

1.  Investment Protection in the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) -- Marc Maes (11.11.11) for the S2B Network (March 5, 2014)

2.  S2B/Marc Maes -- Response to DG Trade claims about Investment Protection in CETA (March 7-2014)

3.  A Response to the European Commission's December 2013 Document "Investment Provisions in the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CETA)" by Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Howard Mann, IISD, 2014.

Adding to this, Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute launched another blockbuster report on investor-state dispute settlement this week. It's called Profiting from crisis – How corporations and lawyers are scavenging profits from Europe's crisis countries, and it's "how corporations, backed by lawyers, are using international investment agreements to scavenge for profits by suing governments from Europe's crisis countries."

The report offers a history of investor-state cases launched following crises in Mexico, Argentina and now increasingly in Europe. "These investor-state disputes," says a summary of the CEO-TNI report, "are part of a broader pattern that has become deeply evident since the economic crisis broke; one where corporations are protected from risky investments while citizens are told that cuts are inevitable; where corporate losses are socialised and taxpayers pay the bill; where corporations have recourse to justice while citizens' human rights are sidelined."

The report recommends:

As a first step, we believe EU governments should seek to terminate existing investment agreements. In particular, European citizens and concerned politicians should demand the exclusion of investor-state dispute mechanisms from new trade agreements currently under negotiation, such as the proposed EU-US trade deal. A total of 75,000 cross-registered companies with subsidiaries in both the EU and the US could launch investor-state attacks under the proposed transatlantic agreement. Europe's experience of corporate speculators profiting from crisis should be a salutary warning that corporations' rights need to be curtailed and peoples' rights put first.

Investor protection chapters in TTIP and CETA will be a big part of this week's transatlantic civil society dialogue. I'll write more about the week here when I have a chance. 

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