By Yash Tandon
There is much talk these days – at least in Europe - about TTIP. Africans know very little about TTIP. Africans, on the other hand, have a suffered a lot under EPA for the last nearly thirty years, but few in Europe know about it.
Why do people in Europe not know or care to know about EPA? What is all this hoo-ha about TTIP, and why is it important for Africans to know about it? What is TPP? How are all these related to the WTO MC10 and the talk about a “New Round”? Is a “Nairobi Round” a proper “landing ground” for the post-Nairobi WTO?
A short answer is that contrary to widely held views, all these and the WTO MC10 are not about economics. Economics are only the entry point to what essentially are matters of geo-economic-political power of the Empire and corporate capital. The WTO, TTIP, TPP, NAFTA, CETA and EPAs are contested sites in the struggle between the Empire and the people. Is it as simple as that? Yes, simple and yet complex. This blog will only sketch the complexity in broad strokes.
Let me start with Europe and TTIP
The US-Europe TTIP
TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Unlike the WTO, which is a multilateral trading system, TTIP is a bilateral trade and investments system – still to be concluded - between the US and Europe. Other bilaterals include the TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and 12 Pacific Rim countries, excluding – significantly – China; and EPAs – Economic Partnership Agreements between Europe and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
The TTIP is promoted essentially by the American and European governments and Corporate Capital. According to EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstorm: “… this agreement was worth the effort, worth it economically, worth it strategically. We did so because we knew that for all our transatlantic differences we actually agree on most things, from first principles like human rights to their most complex implementation in high quality regulation. We did so because we knew that this bed of shared principles, combined with the size of the prize, would help us find our way forward when it counted.” [i]
The TTIP is opposed by a significant section of civil society in Europe. In June and August 2015 I travelled around Europe (France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Germany) promoting my book Trade is War and learning about TTIP. I discovered something interesting - a seemingly anomalous (but unacknowledged) agreement between the left and the right against the signing of TTIP. On the left were Marxists, socialists, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D), and a fair chunk of the trade unions (such as the FGTB in Belgium). On the right were a group of nationalists including neo-fascist parties like the National Front in France and the UK Independent Party (UKIP).
At the Centre – those who supported the TTIP – were: Corporate Europe, the political establishment (in the case of the UK, for example, the leadership of both the Conservative and Labour parties), Social Democrat reformists, the state bureaucracies, non-government organisations like “Fair Trade”, and a section of the working class that benefits from world trade and investments.
The above brief quote from the EU Trade Commissioner summaries the position of the pro-TTIP lobby. The opposition to TTIP boiled down, in essence, to three major objections - its secretiveness and lack of transparency and accountability; the threat of transnational corporate takeover of the economies of Europe; and the system of Investor State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) that put the judicial system outside national jurisdiction.
I will state my position: I oppose the TTIP. It and its replicas – like the TPP and EPA- add a series of layers under the WTO with even more far-reaching inroads into the independence and sovereignty of states than the WTO. That does not make WTO any better. The WTO and these bilateral arrangements are parts of the same conspiracy. I use the word ‘conspiracy’ deliberately; my subsequent blogs in this series will explain why. Collectively, they make national economies hostages to global corporations that would enjoy extra-territorial protection. Above all, these agreements are being negotiated without the due process of democratic participation of the people of the world.
The Geopolitics of TTIP and its other facsimiles
What I found missing from the debate in Europe about TTIP was its broader geopolitical context. Very few people – especially on the left – analysed the above quoted defence of the TTIP by Cecilia Malmstorm, “… this agreement was worth the effort,” she argued, “worth it economically, worth it strategically.” I argue here that the strategic element is more critical than the economic. The TTIP - and TPP and EPAs - are (to put it as clearly as I can) an attempt to create new trading, investment and legal system to exclude BRICS, and in particular China. Its objective is more military-security than economic, although, secondarily, that too.
At the heart lies a turf war between the United States and China. In the broader geopolitical context, it is the emerging Chinese-Russian coalition – in part triggered by the policies of the West in the Middle East, Ukraine and the South China Sea - that is shaping events in Europe and America. Trade and investments are entry point to geopolitics. The TTIP is the strategic landing ground of the geostrategic relations between the US and the EU against mainly the China-Russia axis. [ii]
The East African Experience with TIPA and EPA
One of the extended tentacles of this global octopus is the US-EAC Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TIPA) that the US has been pushing since October 2012. TIPA is similar to the TTIP, and has triggered strong voices of opposition from the East African civil society organisations. On May 13, 2013, the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), together with twenty-two other civil society organisations, sent a written appeal to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) warning it against the dire consequences of endorsing TIPA. Although the US and the governments are reporting “progress” on the talks, the TIPA is not yet concluded.
It is the same with the EPA. Towards the end of 2014 it was announced that the Governments of the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) had signed the EPA. Again, as with TTIP, it is a struggle between the people on one side and global corporate capital on the other.
The EPA was signed under mounting pressure from especially the flower export industry in Kenya - an industry in the control of large global corporations as well as some wealthy and influential Kenyans. What made the position of the East African governments precarious is their dependence on the so-called “development aid” from Europe. Even the EAC’s Secretariat located in Arusha is EU aid dependent. Slightly over 60 percent ($78.17 million) of the EAC budget for 2014–15 was funded by the donors, the largest being the European Union.
But while the big corporations (and their local agents) pushed for the signing of the EPA (and got their way), the poor farmers suffer. In 2007, the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KSSFF) filed a case against their government, arguing that EPAs would put at risk the livelihoods of millions of Kenyan and East African farmers. On 30 October, 2013, the High Court of Kenya ruled in KSSFF‘s favour. The court directed the Kenya government to establish a mechanism for involving stakeholders (including small-scale farmers) in the on-going EPA negotiations, and to encourage public debate on this matter.
But the EPA was signed anyway. Following the signing, the Kenya Senate passed a resolution saying that the EPA should not be implemented until a majority of the provincial assemblies had discussed it. Whether the Senate resolution is legally binding on the Government is unclear. In Tanzania, former President Mkapa came out publicly to oppose the signing. One thing became clear: the people of East Africa would remain defiant against the implementation of the EPAs.
DDR and threat of a New Round
The 3rd Ministerial Conference (MC3) of the WTO took place in Seattle, USA in November 1999. It turned out to be disastrous for the Empire. An estimated 40,000 anti-globalisation street protestors outside and a strong opposition from the countries of the South inside the MC3 wrecked the conference. It was success for the people, defeat for global capital.
Then came 9/11. At the 4th Ministerial Conference (MC4) in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, the US made it clear that if the countries of the South blocked a trade agreement they would be siding with the ‘terrorists’. Under enormous pressure (I was then member of the Tanzanian delegation) the South succumbed.[iii] The ‘Doha Round’ was signed. Its only saving grace was the addition of the word ‘development’. So immediately after Doha it was called the ‘Doha Development Round’ (DDR). ‘Development’ has become the ‘landing ground’ for the countries of the South.
Since Doha the battle for ‘development’ has been waging in MC5 (Cancún, 2003), MC6 (Hong Kong, 2005), MC7 (Geneva, 2009), MC 8 (Geneva, 2011) and MC9 (Bali, 2013). The language of the US, the EU and Japan (with Canada and Israel as side-kicks) is clear: it is war; those who deviate are aligning themselves with ‘terrorists’. In actual fact, in the bigger geo-political context – as explained earlier - it is war against BRICS, especially China.
It is important to note that this language is replicated in all institutions of global governance including not only the World Bank and the IMF but also the UN. On 14 September 2015, for example, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘principles to guide sovereign debt restructuring’. It was adopted by an overwhelming vote of 136 countries of the global South. The Empire voted against: the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, Canada and Israel.
It is a one-sided war. The developing countries seek principles of fairness (like on the issue of debt restructuring) to redress the inequities of a system of global governance. They had little say in the creation of this system at the end of the Second World War. But the Empire will have none of this. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), supported by a large majority of the countries of the South, are thus obliged to create parallel structures of global governance - a subject I will address in another blog.
It is against this geopolitical background that the battle on ‘development’ has been raging in the run up to MC10. The language coming from the Empire is ‘concluding’ the DDR, whilst the developing countries have been arguing that the DDR cannot be concluded unless a ‘credible’ outcome on development is delivered in Nairobi. This is what Kenya Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, was referring to when she said that the MC10 must deliver a ‘credible’ outcome on ‘development’.[iv]
What, then, is a ‘credible’ outcome?
As always at the WTO, the battle takes the form of linguistic jiggery-pokery. The Empire says that a ‘credible’ outcome could be achieved by ‘lowering the ambitions’ and a ‘recalibration’ of the development agenda. Any outstanding issues, it says, should become part of the ‘post-Nairobi’ agenda – what might be called the ‘Nairobi Round’.
For the rest of us, development is self-defined by the people and freedom from the domination of the Empire.
Let us sum up the argument.
We are living through war unleashed, unilaterally, by the Empire - the US, the EU, and Japan (and its offspring - Canada and Israel). The War is primarily against the people of the global South. But it is also against the vast majority of the people within the Empire, except that they are conned by the Empire’s use of race, religion and, above all, the neoliberal ideology of ‘free market’. Surprisingly, a significant segment of the working class within the Empire believes in something that has never ever existed in history – namely ‘free trade’.
‘Free trade’ is war. The WTO is a war machine. The TTIP, TPP, EPA, TIPA, CETA - and many other similar ‘bilaterals’ – are added missiles in the Empire’s armoury. The word ‘development’ as interpreted by the global South is an anathema to the Empire. For it ‘development’ is as it defines the term – i.e. within and under its tutelage and control of the global finance capital and a tiny minority of the global political elite. For the rest of us it is self-reliance and liberation from the Empire.
The WTO MC10 will be the testing ground for the Empire against mounting resistance by not only the people of the South, but also an increasingly conscious ordinary people – especially the youth – within the citadels of the Empire. [v]
[i] (http://www.euintheus.org/press-media/speech-by-cecilia-malmstrom-commissioner-for-trade-ttip-on-track). (Italics added)
[ii] For more on this, see: http://www.atlantic-community.org
[iii] For a blow by blow account of this, see: Yash Tandon, Trade is War, OR Books, 2016, chapter 2
[iv] See Yash Tandon, “WTO’s Challenge to Kenya and Africa,” The Weekend Star, Nairobi, September 19/20 2015.
[v] On 17 October 2015, the UK-based Global Justice Now, handed over 500,000 British signatures to the European Commission against TTIP. See: https://us-mg6.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=4ri7484j1cu09
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