02 January 2016


As previous updates - and many economists - have pointed out the huge economic gains claimed for TTIP are largely illusory.  The 119bn euros boost for the EU not only turns out to be under the most optimistic assumptions, clearly impossible to obtain now given the growing resistance to TTIP's de-regulation, but refers to 2027, and is the difference between an EU economy with TTIP and without.  That means the claimed 0.5% GDP boost is actually a ten-year cumulative figure, and amounts to the rather less impressive 0.05% extra GDP on average - in mathematical terms, indistinguishable from zero given the very approximate nature of the models used to make these predictions.

That's been quite widely known for a while.  But it turns out that there is another extraordinary fact buried within the main CEPR study, which was paid for the European Commission [.pdf]. I've discovered this thanks to an illuminating post about TTIP by Martin Whitlock, published in the UK edition of The Huffington Post. 

I'll cover his main point later on, but first I want to explore the extremely important piece of information that he mentions almost incidentally.  It goes some way to explaining the European Commission's obsession with cars: whenever they give an example of an industry that could benefit from TTIP, it's always cars.  And when asked about harmonisation of standards, it's again always about the different rules that apply to cars on each side of the Atlantic.  Here's what Whitlock writes:

cars form a big part of the E.U.'s case for TTIP. They account for 47% of the increase in exports and 41% of the increase in imports in the best case scenario, with well over three times as many vehicles braving the Atlantic storms in one direction or the other than at present.

When you think about it, that's staggering.  Indeed, so staggering that I checked what the CEPR study says to make sure those figures were correct.  For those of you following at home, it turns out that the relevant numbers are on pages 68 and 69 of the report.

In the most ambitious scenario, and in 2027, CEPR expects there to be a positive change in bilateral exports from the EU to US of 186,965 million euros (that's obviously a ridiculous precise figure - no model can provide six significant figures of accuracy about aspects of the world economy in 2027.)  Of that, fully 87,358 million euros are predicted to come from the motor industry.  The works out as 47%, as Whitlock writes.  Similarly, the table on page 69, CEPR expect there to be a positive change in bilateral exports from the US to EU of 159,098 million euros, which 65,903 million euros come from the motor industry, representing 41% of the total.

So that confirms Whitlock's figures.  But let's just think about what those CEPR predictions mean.  In rough terms, they say that in 2027, nearly 50% of TTIP's boost to transatlantic trade will come from one industry: cars.  Not only that, but CEPR further claims that the transatlantic exports for both the EU and the US industries will be boosted by roughly the same amount.  In other words, TTIP will lead to more cars being shipped from the EU to the US, but also for almost the same number of extra cars to be shipped back across from the US to the EU.

Since the number of cars travelling in each direction across the Atlantic more or less cancel out, this means that TTIP's net effect will be to cause vast quantities of fuel to have been burnt carrying out this vehicle swap.  It turns out, then, that 50% of TTIP's trade boost is pure environmental profligacy.  This is not an aspect of TTIP that the European Commission emphasises much, for some reason.

As I mentioned, this hugely important insight was only mentioned in passing by Whitlock, who goes on to analyse what are the consequences of moving roughly the same number of cars across the Atlantic in both directions.  Here's what he writes:

If the extra cost of transporting cars back and forth across the Atlantic is to be absorbed, and the vehicles are to offer better value to the consumer, it follows that the productive work contained in them will have to be acquired more cheaply. That could mean greater automation, or lower wages, or both. Either way, a smaller slice of the value of cars will go to the people who actually make them.


Trade which outsources production to low wage countries has the effect of importing poverty from the poor country to the rich one, since the loss of productive work in the rich country causes wages to fall. The danger of TTIP is that Europe and America will start exporting their significant levels of poverty to each other at a much faster rate than at present - a potentially disastrous chase to the bottom in which poverty increases inexorably as real wages continue to fall. Meanwhile, the capacity of governments to address the problem will be further eroded by the investor protections of ISDS and the tax breaks inevitably demanded by investor capital that can go wherever the return is greatest.

There are two important points here.  First, that it is inevitable that workers will suffer if CEPR's predictions for TTIP turn out to be true.  That's just simple economices: the whole "point" of TTIP from a business point of view is to allow cheaper labour to be used in this way; but, by definition, cheaper labour drives down wages.  Indeed, that is precisely what has happened with earlier trade agreements like NAFTA and KORUS.

The other point is that even if they wanted to, EU and US politicians wouldn't be able to pass new regulations to ensure that wages did not fall, say.  That's because such new rules would inevitably be called an "indirect expropriation of future profits" by the companies affected.  And if you think that is far-fetched, it's worth bearing in mind that ISDS has already been used in precisely this way: the French multinational Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for daring to raise the country's minimum monthly wage.  Preserving national sovereignty in the fields of wages and social justice is yet another very good reason for taking ISDS out of TTIP.

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