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"What is at stake in trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA is our right to vital services, and more, it is about our ability to steer services of all kinds to the benefit of society at large." (Photo: Getty)

EU Trade Deals with US and Canada Blasted as 'Attacking Public Services'

TTIP and CETA 'could lock public services into a commercialization from which they will not recover—no matter how damaging to welfare the results may be'

Deirdre Fulton

As EU and U.S. negotiators start the 11th round of TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks in Miami on Monday, a European watchdog group is sounding the alarm over the negative impacts such "trade" deals could have on citizens' rights to basic services like water, energy, education, and healthcare.

For the sake of corporate profits, both the TTIP and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada "could lock ... public services into a commercialization from which they will not recover—no matter how damaging to welfare the results may be," the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) stated last week.

The group's report, Public Services Under Attack (pdf), highlights "the secretive collusion between big business and trade negotiators in the making of the EU’s international trade deals."

Specifically, it exposes "the aggressive agenda of services corporations with regards to TTIP and CETA, pushing for far-reaching market opening in areas such as health, cultural and postal services, and water, which would allow them to enter and dominate the markets."

A report summary explains further:

Big business has successfully lobbied against the exemption of public services from CETA and TTIP as both agreements apply to virtually all services. A very limited general exemption only exists for services "supplied in the exercise of governmental authority". But to qualify for this exemption, a service has to be carried out "neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more economic operators". Yet nowadays, in virtually all traditional public sectors, private companies exist alongside public suppliers – often resulting in fierce competition between the two. This effectively limits the governmental authority exemption to a few core sovereign functions such as law enforcement, the judiciary, or the services of a central bank.

So-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, meanwhile, which have been slammed as "a parallel legal system for corporations," could make "regulations in sensitive public service sectors such as education, water, health, social welfare, and pensions prone to all kinds of investor attacks," CEO cautions.

And "[g]iving in to corporate demands for unfettered access to government procurement could restrict governments’ ability to support local and not-for-profit providers and foster the outsourcing of public sector jobs to private firms, where staff are often forced to do the same work with worse pay and working conditions," the group adds. 

Opposition to the TTIP,  which would create a trade and investment zone encompassing 800 million people and nearly half of global economic output, is growing. A protest against the pact drew an estimated 250,000 demonstrators to Berlin earlier this month, while a recent poll indicated nearly half of Germans oppose the deal, compared to 25 percent against it last year. Due to the intense secrecy surrounding negotiations, WikiLeaks in August offered a €100,000 ($113,230 USD) reward for the full text. 

A separate report released Sunday by the UK-based social justice organization Global Justice Now showed that the controversial pact is already pushing European governments to loosen key food safety standards.

"What is at stake in trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA is our right to vital services, and more, it is about our ability to steer services of all kinds to the benefit of society at large," CEO declared this month. "If left to their own course, trade negotiations will eventually make it impossible to implement decisions for the common good."

According to Europe Online, the two sides are trying to strike a preliminary deal by the end of this year to avoid being impacted by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But as Olof Erixon, director of trade policy at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, told Politico in September, "Getting a skeleton by this autumn is hopelessly unrealistic."

This week's talks in Miami are expected to last through Friday. 

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