October 19, 2015
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP,
is a free trade agreement currently under negotiations
between Europe and the United States.
shown in the insightful new documentary 'TTIP: Might is
Right,' this agreement has stirred a great deal of
controversy and protest among the masses, and for good
Most citizens regard free trade as an essential
component of a healthy economy; therefore, they
generally believe that any new agreement between
countries that falls under the banner of "free trade"
must be in their best interests.
Historically, however, these agreements have done more
than just lift tariffs and allow for the smooth
transport of imports and exports.
Investment clauses written into these agreements,
particularly the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)
clause, allows corporations to sue a country when they
feel their interests are slighted for any reason. In
essence, these trade agreements grant foreign investors
the power to call all the shots, regardless of the
consequences to the country's economy, citizen rights
and environmental protections.
Case in point:
Canada. In 1992, the country signed onto the North
America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United
States, and the unexpected repercussions of that
agreement are still being felt by residents after
well over two decades.
As evidenced by one such consequence portrayed in
the film, the ISDS clause has permitted the practice
of unregulated fracking right in the backyards of
Their protests are largely met by deaf ears, because
the energy companies who host the fracking
enterprises have the authority to sue the country if
they feel their business model is under attack.
Canada has reason to feel squeamish about
interfering with corporate interests or enforcing
regulations upon them; since the passing of NAFTA,
they have become one of the five most frequently
sued countries in the world.
negotiations are held in secret, and little is revealed
to the public regarding their content.
Might is Right' calls for greater transparency in the
crafting of this agreement, and warns of a potential
future where governments only work for the bottom line
of foreign investors, and not for the people they
Democracy itself could crumble under the weight of
The proposed free trade agreement between the US and Europe (TTIP)
causes concern about the European right to self-determination.
The most controversial part of TTIP is
investor-state dispute settlement.
ISDS will make it possible for companies
to sue governments that damage their investments.
But is this arbitrage system where a few
investment lawyers decide over billions of taxpayers money a
protection of our business interests, or a threat to our democracy?
On Saturday, October 10, tens of thousands of European citizens took
to the streets, and more than 2.5 million signatures were offered to
the European Commission. The source of this concern and protest is
the free trade agreement TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership) between the United States and the EU, which would
create the world’s largest free-trade zone.
According to the Dutch Minister for
Foreign Trade Lilianne Ploumen, TTIP could be realized as
soon as 2016; the negotiations are well under way.
If the EU ratifies the trade agreement,
critics fear that the scales will tilt toward North-American
standards and values with regard to (food) safety, workers’ and
And that when it comes to important
collective achievements and protection of its citizens, Europe will
give up its right to self-determination.
The part of the trade agreement that’s questioned the most is ISDS,
or investor-state dispute settlement, which can be used by companies
to dispute a country’s laws and rules, if a company feels unfairly
This will enable multinationals to
circumvent democratic decisions and existing national jurisdiction.
In order to understand the potential consequences of this, VPRO
Backlight traveled to Canada, which became one of the most sued
countries in the world after it entered into a trade agreement with
American companies now summon the
Canadian government to appear before an arbitration tribunal if they
feel that Canadian rules aren't in compliance with the
Despite democratic decisions against
fracking under Canada's most important river, the Saint Lawrence,
the Canadian government was sued for millions of dollars by the oil
and shale gas company Lone Pine.
Could this happen in the Netherlands as well?
In spite of resistance, the Dutch
Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp (VVD) doesn’t rule out
the possibility of future fracking in the Netherlands. VPRO
Backlight probed the opinions at an information meeting organized by
the Dutch Oil and Gas Company in Saaksum, Groningen.
The locals there seem more and more
convinced that fossil fuels should stay where they are: underground.
But then no profit would be made from them anymore.
The question is if this could result in
ISDS claims in the future. Or should we welcome ISDS?
Because it’s also crucial for the
position of the Netherlands as a world leader in legal and financial
services. It will protect the tens of billions of Dutch foreign
British Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang wonders what free
trade really means in this day and age. Because there has long been
a largely free movement of goods between the US and EU, with few
Whose interest will the
controversial TTIP and ISDS serve then?
And in the service of whom or
what is the law, when it comes to international investment
Isn't in the end, might right?
Steve Verheul (Canadian
negotiator for the trade agreement between Canada and the
Gus van Harten (Canadian lawyer
and ISDS expert)
Nikos Lavranos (former
negotiator for the Netherlands, currently ISDS investment