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
Recent history of trade deals
It is necessary to understand some recent history in order to understand trade deal concerns. 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 to import the US economic and regulatory framework. In practise this would mean that supposed trade barriers would be removed: environmental protections, workers’ rights, consumer protections, public welfare standards, animal welfare standards... Corporate domination would be enshrined in law and protected by corporate courts using a mechanism called Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS).
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 of info on 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. However, that wasn't the end of these efforts at a corporate power grab.
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).
The urgent need for effective legislation
We urgently need strong legislation to deal with plastic pollution. The Environment Act 2021 and other measures do not provide that. That makes sense when connections between the government and Big Plastic are understood. See our government section for further info.
The cheap road to oblivion
There is a counter narrative to that discussed in this article. It claims that trade deals will remove non-tariff barriers to trade to create jobs and cheap products, raising the standard of living. This is not true; a contradiction in terms. Welfare standards would be removed to do so, leading to a decline in living standards. Plastic pollution comes from this system of cheap.