Trade deal concerns8th October 2020
'The raft of 'free trade' agreements under negotiation represents a massive seizure of power by corporations... effectively stripping democratic governments of their power to legislate for health, environment, labour or anything else that could reduce corporate profit. But the mainstream media are mysteriously silent.'
- The Ecologist, 2015
We wrote to the local parliamentary candidates leading up to the general election 2019, asking for reassurances to deal with plastic pollution. Both Conservative party MPs were re-elected. From our action we secured a meeting with Justin Tomlinson, and support for the aims of the Plastic Pollution Bill from Robert Buckland. We contacted both MPs to arrange a meeting to discuss plastic pollution issues, especially with regards to the Environment Bill and the post-Brexit trade deals. And almost 3 months later, at the time of writing, we are still waiting.
Why? Some history...
In 2013, discussions were announced on a trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It was one of several trade deals being discussed between the US and countries around the world. There was concern that negotiations were private, with MEPs prohibited from recording or sharing information on details of the discussions. Why the secrecy?
Wikileaks leaked details of this supposed trade deal. This showed TTIP to be about removing regulatory barriers and undermining democracy; diminishing and removing important environmental protections, workers’ rights, consumer protections, public safety and animal welfare standards. Corporate interests would be enshrined in law and protected by corporate courts using a mechanism called Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). This would mean that, if laws were put in place deemed to cause a loss of future profits for corporations, governments could be sued This would allow corporate interests to usurp public interests.
Corporate courts have been instituted through trade deals around the world. The government of Argentina, for example, have paid corporations over $80 billion in settlements since 2001.
Leaks for the public good
The leaks about TTIP led to huge campaigns across Europe supported by organisations such as The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, 38 Degrees and Global Justice Now. This eventually led to its demise. We played our part in Swindon with a well-supported local campaign led by Swindon People's Assembly to raise awareness and pressure representatives. In 2015, 3 of us met with Robert Buckland to express our concerns about TTIP and ask that it be shelved. But the demise of TTIP wasn't the end of these efforts at a corporate power grab.
The Brexit connection
As TTIP was defeated, the people of the UK were offered a referendum on EU membership: Brexit. What has Brexit come down to? Trade deals. Currently in the spotlight is a trade deal between the US and UK although other trade deals are being discussed. Negotiations have been kept secret (although a successful legal action by Global Justice Now is about to change that). On the table are environmental protections, workers’ rights, consumer protections, public welfare standards, animal welfare standards, the NHS and more. Sound familiar?
Trade deal concerns re plastic pollution
We have 3 major concerns about a trade deal with the US:
1. Chemical safety regulation
The EU has a regulatory framework called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) which uses the precautionary principle to protect us from hazardous chemicals. It is far from perfect but it gives us more protection than in the US, where there is no such regulation.
The UK system to replace REACH is called BREACH (British REACH). There is strong criticism from The CHEM Trust, who suggest that the UK will have little protection through BREACH, that it may take years to populate.
2. Corporate courts
Large transnational corporations actively lobby to protect their profits / interests despite pledging to reduce waste. A trade deal that enshrined corporate interests in law, backed up by corporate courts / ISDS, could impede our ability to deal with plastic pollution.
Coca Cola have been actively lobbying against Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), including in the UK. Plastic is cheap and light, hence its use in packaging is more profitable for Coca Cola as their products are transported long distances. A move back to reuse would mean they would either have to raise prices or profits would be reduced. If a trade deal placed Coca Cola's future profits above health, then the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in the UK could be impeded.
Fracking is shown to devastate communities, causing earthquakes, noise, toxic pollution, and disease (see the fracking category in our library for further info). The production of more cheap plastic is made possible through fracking. In the US, this has led to huge investment ($195 billion) in new refineries to make plastic. A trade deal could then conceivably impose fracking upon communities in the UK. Blocking such proposals could risk the UK government being sued by fracking companies, as happened in Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Evidence of complicity in ecocide (not yet part of international law) is stacking up against transnational corporations (eg oil / plastic companies, Monsanto) and governments around the world. That includes the UK government who claim to want to lead the way on climate change:
- The UK government have been using foreign aid to fund fossil fuels through CDC, the UK's development bank.
- Foreign aid funding for fossil fuels by the UK government since the Paris agreement totals £3.9 billion.
- £1 billion of funding meant for green energy was instead invested in fracking in Argentina. Fracking is being used to produce more cheap plastic.
- One year after the net zero carbon pledge by 2050 and very little has happened.
- The UK government is even being taken to court by a climate litigation charity, Plan B, for not taking appropriate action on climate change .
- The UK government consists of many MPs who have been lobbyists for big business. Whose interests do they truly serve?
Where's the urgency?
We urgently need strong legislation to deal with plastic pollution. It has been almost 3 years since Blue Planet highlighted the severity of plastic pollution around the world, yet there has only been a ban on just 3 items of plastic; a drop in the ocean, pun intended. The Plastic Pollution Bill, which would have provided a timetable to phase out plastics, was passed over for the Environment Bill, which does not offer the same strong measures.
The cheap road to oblivion
There is a counter narrative to the information that I've presented, which claims that the UK-US trade deal is about creating good jobs and cheap products for a good standard of living for all. Let’s examine that idea. It is worth understanding what cheap means.
Cheap and nasty
Cheap often means a decline in living standards: workers are paid poor wages, health and safety at work is poor, environmental considerations are weak, animals are abused… So the idea that removing welfare standards leads to better standards is clearly untrue; a paradox. Such deceptions of neo-liberalism have enabled gross inequality with all that it is understood to entail. That includes the global plastic pollution crisis because waste and equality are linked.
In the jargon of politicians and trade deals, vital standards and protections are labelled as Non Tariff Barriers to Trade (NTBs). Removing them is about increasing profit and control for big business, as global experience and Global Justice Now's Trade Secrets book makes clear. The US trade deal is about importing the US economic and regulatory system. Beware!
If those who supposedly represent us won't take decisive action then we surely must:
- Share this article.
- Sign the petition to oppose a toxic US-UK trade deal.
- Sign the petition to the Prime Minister to stop funding fossil fuels.
- Write to your MP. We've simplified the action for you, providing a template letter that you're welcome to use.
- See the take action section for further ways to make a difference.