The government claims it is ‘taking back control’ of trade negotiations. But the British government was the biggest cheerleader in Europe for TTIP and CETA, the damaging mega EU trade deals with the US and Canada.
Outside the EU, there are even fewer checks or balances on the British government. MPs have almost no role in negotiating trade deals: they can’t set a mandate for the government to follow, they have no right to information about the negotiations, they can’t amend deals – they can’t even stop them!
Global Justice Now have identified four areas of danger in future trade deals:
- Undue corporate influence on the process. Recent research* has revealed that 90% of consultations carried out by the Department for International Trade are with large corporations. Wherever corporate interests come into conflict with those of the general public, the corporations have the upper hand. Public interests likely to be affected include:
- Rights in the workplace
- Environmental protections
- Public health provision (including NHS, food and safety standards
- Internet privacy concerns
- A future trade deal with the US is likely to restrict the Government’s ability to discriminate in favour of clean energy, as this would be seen by Big Oil as unfair competition
- Corporate courts threaten to undermine the British justice system, giving even greater privileges to corporate lawyers and their clients
- ‘Ratchet’ clauses in treaties will lock in privatisation measures, preventing future governments from reversing the process
In the dark
The current process for ratifying trade treaties in Parliament is a shadow of democracy. The treaty is ‘laid before’ Parliament for a period of 21 days, with no requirement for a debate or a vote. If no objections are raised, the deal is passed. If Parliament passes a motion against the treaty, the Government can simply issue a statement and again lay the treaty before the House.
In a recent briefing paper**, Global Justice Now outlined five demands for a democratic process of negotiation and ratification of trade deals:
- Parliament to have a right to mandate and set the agenda for trade negotiations
- The public to be consulted on proposed trade deals
- Full transparency for trade negotiations
- Parliament to have the right to reject or amend treaties, with full scrutiny and debate and a remit to devolved administrations
- Parliament to have a right to review and withdraw from treaties when appropriate
* Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Justice Now (2017) Big Business Britain: How corporate lobbyists are dominating meetings with trade ministers
** Global Justice Now (2017) Giving away control? How Brexit will make UK trade deals less democratic and what to do about it