02 January 2016


A lot has been happening on the TTIP front recently.  That's largely because of two factors.  First, that the real negotiations have begun, which is generating a lot of activity by all those involved.  And secondly, because resistance to some or even all of TTIP is growing, and that is manifesting itself in various ways.  For example, yesterday the important resolution on NSA surveillance passed by the European Parliament included the following key recommendation:

Parliament should withhold its consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the US unless it fully respects EU fundamental rights, stresses the resolution, adding that data protection should be ruled out of the trade talks. This consent “could be endangered as long as blanket mass surveillance activities and the interception of communications in EU institutions and diplomatic representations are not fully stopped”, notes the text.

Interestingly, the leak of a document from 2012 [.pdf] reveals that getting consent for TTIP is going to be much harder than we thought.  The confidential legal opinion says that TTIP must be regarded as a "mixed agreement".  What that means in practical terms is that all 28 EU national parliaments must approve it - it's not just the European Parliament that gets to vote here.  That makes the barrier to getting TTIP through much higher.

There's more resistance in the form of a new site dedicated to TTIP put together by the Green/EFA Group of the European Parliament:

The European Greens do not believe that TTIP represents the kind of transatlantic relationship we need. As it currently stands, TTIP threatens our democracy and risks undermining our hard-won regulation and standards in a host of sectors.

We are against the current negotiation agenda that was set by business interests and is taking place in complete secrecy. Negotiations need to be in the full view of the public and their representatives, and the deal needs to promote and enhance social, environmental, health and consumer rights, not undermine them.

Contributions to this site will continue over the coming months. The Greens hope to provide a platform for concerned stakeholders to discuss the current state of the negotiations and what they could mean for citizens and democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Another new site is eu-secretdeals.info, which has an interesting emphasis on publishing leaked documents for both TTIP and the Canada-EU trade agreement (CETA):

By publishing negotiating texts, that reached us from anonymous sources, and by providing critical analysis of these texts, we hope to enable parliamentarians, academics, civil society organisations, media and the public to understand what the EU, the US and Canada are trying to do during the negotiations.

We are committed to a more transparent and democratic EU and international trade policy. And we invite all interested NGOs, academics and progressive political actors to contribute to this site with their insights and analysis of the leaked investment texts and investor-state dispute settlement generally.

As that suggests, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) element of TTIP (and CETA) remains problematic.  In fact, the main organisation that monitors this area - UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development - published an important analysis [.pdf] of just how serious those problems were back in June 2013 (I've only just come across it, thanks to this excellent Swedish post rebutting the European Commission's attempts to justify ISDS that I wrote about my previous update.)

Here are the main issues with ISDS, as perceived by UNCTAD:

Legitimacy and transparency

Probably the main concern here, that ISDS will undermine measures in the public interest.

Arbitral decisions: problems of consistency and erroneous decisions

As UNCTAD points out, the decisions of the ISDS tribunals are often inconsistent, which makes them a nightmare to plan for and deal with - and hardly suitable for a treaty like TTIP.

Arbitrators: Concerns about party appointments and undue incentives

The members of ISDS tribunals may not be impartial, making their judgments even more problematic.

Cost- and time-intensity of arbitrations

ISDS cases typically cost around $8 million, which makes them punitively expensive. 

Those are the "old" problems, well-known for some time.  But new ways of abusing the ISDS system are cropping up all the time.  For example, an important new report from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) exposes how ISDS in existing treaties are being used in an attempt to extract huge sums from European nations worst-hit by the financial crisis:

For a long time, European countries were left unscathed by the rising global wave of investor-state disputes which had tended to target developing countries. In the wake of the global financial crisis, however, corporations and investment lawyers have turned their eyes to potential pickings in Europe. An investment regime, concocted in secretive European board rooms, and that gives corporations powerful rights to sue governments, has finally come home to roost.

Here's how it works:

Profiting from Crisis looks closely at how corporate investors have responded to the measures taken by Spain, Greece and Cyprus to protect their economies in the wake of the European debt crisis. In Greece, Poštová Bank from Slovakia bought Greek debt after the bond value had already been downgraded, and was then offered a very generous debt restructuring package, yet sought to extract an even better deal by suing Greece using the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Slovakia and Greece. In Cyprus, a Greek-listed private equity-style investor, Marfin Investment Group, which was involved in a series of questionable lending practices, is seeking €823 million in compensation for their lost investments after Cyprus had to nationalise the Laiki Bank as part of an EU debt restructuring agreement. In Spain, 22 companies (at the time of writing), mainly private equity funds, have sued at international tribunals for cuts in subsidies for renewable energy. While the cuts in subsidies have been rightly criticised by environmentalists, only large foreign investors have the ability to sue, and it is egregious that if they win it will be the already suffering Spanish public who will have to pay to enrich private equity funds.

This is a great demonstration of how ISDS clauses can be misused.  These debt restructuring measures were brought in at the behest of the European Commission: the countries had no choice in the matter if they wanted EU support.  The austerity measures they formed part of have pushed large numbers of people into poverty, and yet the investors who have bought up debt cheaply are now trying to extract large sums from cash-strapped governments.  If the investors win, that money will come out of the public budget, and will inevitably mean further cuts in health services, education etc.

These ISDS cases have arisen purely from existing intra-EU treaties: imagine how things will be when US companies can join in.  And if you think only a few multi-national companies are involved, think again. As CEO says:

A total of 75,000 cross-registered companies with subsidiaries in both the EU and the US could launch investor-state attacks under the proposed transatlantic agreement. Europe’s experience of corporate speculators profiting from crisis should be a salutary warning that corporations’ rights need to be curtailed and peoples’ rights put first.

Of course, the European Commission's response to all these major issues is to say that we shouldn't worry, because it will all be sorted out in TTIP.  But as a previous Update showed, its attempts to do that in CETA don't inspire confidence.  That was based on some excellent work by the Seattle to Brussels Network; but I've recently discovered another, completely independent analysis of the same documents, this time from the International Institute for Sustainable Development [.pdf].  It's extremely thorough, and its conclusions are unequivocal:

In the end, and whatever the reason for the disconnect, we conclude that the actual draft legal texts in the public domain show that the European Commission’s assertions [about improving ISDS in CETA] are in most respects incorrect when compared to the draft legal text. The technical legal analysis is set out on each specific point below. In effect, the analysis indicates that the standards by which the European Commission itself seeks to demonstrate the success of the drafting actually show that the drafting has failed to meet its stated objectives, in fact, sometimes with the exact opposite result.

Here, though, I want to concentrate on one particular aspect that concerns "Most-Favoured Nation (MFN)", which could extremely serious ramifications if it is included in TTIP.  The situation for CETA is as follows:

Article X.8 of the November 2013 draft [of CETA] contains the MFN provision. In essence, it requires, for present analytical purposes, a European state to treat a foreign investor from Canada no less favourably than it treats an investor from any third state. The problem arises from the legal reality that such treatment has been defined in investment arbitrations as including the rights of other investors under investment treaties with the host state. So, if an EU member state that has a Canadian investor also has a treaty with an African, Latin American or any other state, the investor from Canada can import the provisions of that treaty if they are more favourable than the provisions of the CETA.

The impact of this is straightforward. The European Commission statement notes the need to “bring very significant clarifications” in order to give arbitrators “strict and detailed guidance when these provisions are invoked by an investor.” Now, we have already seen from the preceding analysis that this objective has not been met in the November 2013 draft text. But let us suppose, for the sake of understanding the current issue, that it had been met. The MFN provision would in any event undo this.

Arbitrators now routinely allow investors to essentially cherry-pick provisions from other investment treaties that are more favourable to it. To continue our example of a Canadian investor, let’s assume it makes a claim against an EU member state for expropriation under CETA. The exceptions and carve-outs would apply to it. However, if the same state has an old treaty with any other state, the investor can argue that the expropriation provision from that treaty, without the exceptions or carve-outs included in the CETA, should apply to its claim as a result of the CETA’s MFN provision. The benefits to the states of the more careful drafting are thus, quite simply, lost.

So, in the case of CETA, all of the European Commission's much-vaunted "improvements" to ISDS are completely nullified by the presence of this MFN clause.  We don't know if a similar MFN section will be in TTIP, but if it is, and it is as badly-worded as in CETA, it will have a similarly disastrous effect.  When the European Commission releases its ISDS consultation document (soon?) it must make absolutely clear what its position on MFN is.

However,  maybe it won't matter.  An article published todayin the German newspaper Die Zeit claims that the German government wants ISDS out of TTIP.  Obviously, that needs to be confirmed, but if it's true, it's hard to see how the European Commission will be able to push an agreement through if it contains ISDS.

Never a dull moment in the world of TTIP....

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