In a move that campaigners say highlights the power of public pressure, European lawmakers this week postponed a debate and vote on a key and highly contentious resolution within the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), stalling the advancement of the world's biggest so-called free trade agreement.
According to BBC, the non-binding resolution contained recommendations on issues including "data protection, transparency and the status of public services," as well as recommendations on the highly-contentious issue of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).
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Under ISDS, international corporations are empowered to sue governments for millions of dollars in closed-door tribunals, if those corporations deem their profits are affected by new laws or changes in policy.
Growing public opposition to the controversial trade agreement has split European lawmakers, with those on the left arguing that the pact will only further entrench corporate power, as well as water down European food, pesticide, labor, pharmaceutical, and other regulations in order to remove so-called "trade barriers."
Following the 183 to 181 vote on Wednesday, Irish MEP Sean Kelly said, "The vote’s postponement is a response to the enormous pressure from civil society," in reference to an anti-TTIP petition, already signed by 2 million Europeans.
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European trade negotiators already hold the 'fast track' powers currently being sought by U.S. President Barack Obama, and therefore MEPs only have the ability to veto the final text. The vote was supposed to establish their first formal position on the agreement.
Civil society groups that have long-fought the trade agreement celebrated the delay, though they said the next step is eradicating the deal altogether.
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Since TTIP negotiations began two years ago, opposition within both the U.S. and Europe has swelled. On April 18, tens of thousands of Europeans in over 600 cities protested in a global day of action against the trade pact.
Sam Cossar-Gilbert, economic justice and resisting neoliberalism coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, explained in a column Wednesday, "This profound change in public sentiment is because these deals no longer have much to do with trade. Rather they are about reshaping and limiting the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest."
The TTIP is one of three major global trade pacts currently in the pipeline, along with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Together the deals will impact roughly 1.5 billion people and, as Cossar-Gilbert says, "effectively set a 'Gold Standard' for deregulation and investor rights, triggering a race to the bottom that might be copied in future trade deals."
The next round of TTIP negotiations will be held in Brussels, Belgium from July 13 to 17.
Meanwhile, opponents say they will continue to mobilize until the European Parliament rejects the pact outright "because it is a threat to our democracy as well as protection standards for labour rights, the environment and public health."
As Cossar-Gilbert concludes: "It remains uncertain if our elected representatives will cave in to pressure from corporate interests or defend the rights of ordinary citizens and stop these Trojan horse deals. What is certain is that the public is increasingly aware and more involved in discussing the wide-ranging implications of these trade agreements—and that is a big step in the right direction."