‘A Corporate Agenda Is Really What’s Driving the Process’

Janine Jackson interviewed Karen Hansen-Kuhn about TTIP leaks for the May 6, 2016, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn: (Image: 3sat)

Karen Hansen-Kuhn: “Both sides are pushing really hard for new protections for investment.” (Image: 3sat)


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MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: Corporate media talk about trade pacts, which have little to do at this point with actual trade, but the coverage is generally pretty thin and vague, perhaps in part because for corporate media, corporate globalization is simply inevitable. If the horse-trading of livelihoods and lives for markets is unseemly, well, let’s not try to take too close a look.

The leak of a draft of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, by Greenpeace Netherlands may have thrown a wrench in that deal’s inevitability, though media’s interpretation of the document’s meaning will play a role there. So what’s in and what’s not in the TTIP, according to these revelations? We’re joined now by Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of trade, technology and global governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Karen Hansen-Kuhn.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

JJ: I think Americans can be forgiven for not being up on another massive deal that will affect our lives, especially when pains are being taken to keep us from knowing about it, really. So what do we learn from these documents that Greenpeace Netherlands received from an unknown source, and has now released?

KHK: Well, it was a big release. They released something like 200 pages of what’s called consolidated text, so that shows both the US position, the EU position, and areas where they’ve agreed on a number of chapters. It doesn’t include everything, but it includes a lot of the issues that we’re looking at.

And what’s significant about the leak in part is—and this sounds crazy—but this is the first time we actually know what the US wants out of this deal. There’s been a steady flow of leaks from the European Union. They have actually published a lot of their position papers, and the US has not. So a lot of the analysis we’ve been doing up to now has been based on what Europe said they want out of this agreement, and for the first time we’re getting more evidence of what the US is pushing for.


“There’s also a big push to allow for beef produced with hormones, chicken rinsed in chlorine, practices that aren’t allowed in Europe. “

JJ: And what is the US pushing for?

KHK: Well, it’s funny; one of the issues we’ve been focusing on is around agricultural exports to Europe. As you said in the intro, tariffs are already pretty low. A lot of this isn’t really even about trade, it’s about rules. It’s about changing regulations on both sides of the Atlantic so corporations can buy and sell wherever they want. And so one of the big agenda items for the US is to be able to export GMOs and other biotechnology products to Europe. There’s also a big push to allow for beef produced with hormones, chicken rinsed in chlorine, practices that aren’t allowed in Europe.

In the chapter on food safety, what they call sanitary and phytosanitary standards, there are proposals about speeding up the approval process in Europe, about using “science”—that is the same language they’ve used in the Trans Pacific partnership—science that is in many cases data provided by industry to justify new rules. So we have the US asking Europe to give up a lot on their food safety standards, their agricultural standards.

Europe is asking the US to give up a lot on public procurement. So that’s different kinds of projects that are contracted out, publicly funded programs like farm-to-school programs, highway construction…. Europe would like their companies to be able to bid on any of those contracts with no buy-local provisions, no minority or small-business set-asides. Also, Europe wants to free up exports of liquified natural gas, which could mean more fracking in the US.

But I do want to say, I think it would be a mistake to think that that’s the whole story. Both sides are pushing really hard for new protections for investment. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about this Investor/State Dispute Settlement provision.

JJ: Right.

KHK: That allows companies to sue governments over rules that affect their profits. So we have TransCanada suing the US over the Keystone pipeline decision, for example. Both sides want to get that kind of provision in the trade agreement, which could mean a lot more lawsuits like that.

Both sides want to include something we haven’t seen before much in trade agreements, what’s called regulatory cooperation, so basically establishing a lot of new roadblocks to new rules. Any kind of new rule on, say, food safety or toxic chemicals or what have you would have to go through this whole obstacle course of different cost/benefit analyses and different things that would slow down new rules.

So, really, while there are particular interests that the US has versus what Europe has, overall this is a corporate agenda, and that’s really what’s driving the process.

JJ: Let me just ask you, simply: How is it this not trading away sovereignty? I have heard the ISDS, that Investor/State Dispute Settlement, I’ve heard that kind of laughed off. I’ve heard pundits say, oh no, we can still make domestic rules about pollution, for example. Other countries won’t be able to overturn our laws. Well, other countries, maybe not, but transnational corporations, it sounds like, would, or at least would have standing to do that. Is that not a threat to sovereignty?

Nuclear Power Plant (cc photo: mbeo

“A lot of it was sparked by Germany deciding to phase out nuclear power, and so a Swedish firm is suing them for $5 billion.”

KHK: Oh, it’s absolutely a threat. And, you know, we haven’t been hearing as much in the United States about TTIP, the trans-Atlantic deal, in part because there’s been so much focus on the TPP, but this is headline news in Europe. There have been massive demonstrations, particularly in Germany, Austria and France, and a lot of it does focus on this investor/state provision. And in Germany, a lot of it was sparked by Germany deciding to phase out nuclear power, and so a Swedish firm is suing them for $5 billion. So that is absolutely a threat to their sovereignty, and it’s something that has had hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets.

Just this week, the president of France said, you know, if this is what the agreement is, we can’t sign on to this. And a lead negotiator said maybe the talks would be suspended. So it has been big news in Europe. I think we need more of a focus in the US, too. But, certainly, it’s absolutely a threat to sovereignty.

JJ: How can it, though, be a surprise to global leaders? Are they not aware that this is what these trade deals do? I mean, I don’t think it’s really a shock. The details, of course, are horrifying in their specifics, but the general thrust of it is not a shock to activists who’ve been doing this work for years. Why are national leaders — is it a pretense that they are surprised by it? I’m not quite clear what’s going on with that.

KHK: Well, I would say there’s two pieces to that. First of all, they are reacting because there is such a massive public outcry. So they’re reacting to what their populations are concerned about.

On the other hand, I think since the beginning of these talks, Europe has said — I mean, I’ve talked to agricultural ministers, for example, in Europe, and they say really consistently, no hormone beef, no chlorine chicken, no GMOs. And they’ll say this in public statements, and then two weeks later someone from the US government would say, this is absolutely on the agenda. So it’s going back and forth. You know, we are in the process of negotiations, and while a lot of what’s in the text is shocking, it’s still under negotiation.

I don’t think they’re surprised. I mean, these issues have been on the table since the beginning. I suspect what is a surprise is just the degree of public reaction in Europe.

JJ: Well, let’s continue with that. Because it’s somewhat irritating, in a way, to hear the New York Times say on May 2, “After decades of free trade orthodoxy, there has been growing resistance to further liberalizing the movement of goods, services, capital and labor.” It sounds as though activism has sprung out of nowhere on this issue when, in fact, even in the United States, we’ve had decades of work, have we not—of understanding what these corporate-centric trade pacts do and of resisting them?

KHK: Oh, absolutely. When this big leak came out, it made me think back to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Those texts were published. That was going to be a massive free trade agreement in all of the Americas, North and South America, and it was defeated because of activism throughout the hemisphere.

Certainly there have been big fights on each of the trade agreements, and just last summer, the approval process for fast track, the process that Congress uses to debate these trade agreements, was hugely controversial. So I think there’s more public opposition. We see it more than perhaps in the last few years, but absolutely this has been going on for a long time.

JJ: Say we hear that the pact actually has been scuttled. Is that the end of the story?

KHK: No, certainly not. I mean, of course there is the other big trade agreement on the horizon, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could be coming up for a vote sometime this year or perhaps next year. So there’s absolutely that. But even if we were to defeat both of them, there are still these issues of corporate control over our food systems, over our economies, and we need to keep pushing for alternatives.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. You can find their work online at iatp.org. Karen Hansen-Kuhn, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KHK: Thank you.

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.