Following the United Kingdom’s official withdrawal from the European Union at the end of January 2020, the negotiations on a future trade agreement started on Monday, 2nd March. The Chamber of Labour is determined: BREXIT must not be at the expense of the workforce!
On Wednesday, 12 February 2020, the EU Parliament ratified the controversial Trade and Investment Agreement with Vietnam. However, simultaneously, the example of Cambodia demonstrates how hesitantly the EU acts with regard to imposing sanctions as a response to human rights violations. Meanwhile, 847,000 Europeans advocate an end of the ISDS system and the special suing rights for corporations associated with it.
Over the coming weeks, the European Parliament, first the Trade Committee and then the plenary of all MEPs, will decide on the planned trade and investment protection agreement of the EU with Vietnam. However, in a joint letter AK President, Renate Anderl, and ÖGB President, Wolfgang Katzian, have already warned MEPs against the serious consequences of the planned agreements.
Every year, EU member states are sued in the billions by investors for important regulations in the fight against climate change or for protective measures for consumers, workers and health. The planned agreements between the EU and Vietnam would aggravate this situation and would not make a positive contribution either to the Green Deal nor to the goal of a fair globalisation policy. On the contrary, the member states’ political room for manoeuvre will be restricted and corporate rights further enforced.
For a conference at the European Parliament, the GUE/NGL faction invited representatives from both areas affected by the negotiations to exchange views. It became clear that trade unions, environmental organisations and human rights NGOs from both sides of the Atlantic reject the agreement. The reasons for this are manifold, but everyone agrees: the planned EU-MERCOSUR Trade Agreement is a threat to people and nature.
For decades, companies have been deploying the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) to sue 55 Member States in investor state dispute settlement proceedings for amounts running into billions if these, due to (environmental) laws, risked reducing their chances of making profit. The Energy Charter Treaty in particular precludes the fight against the climate crisis and the necessary conversion to CO2 neutral energy, like the phase-out of oil and coal.
During a trade policy workshop on 19th November 2019, experts discussed how trade agreements put public services at risk and what options there are to align trade policy in such a way that sustainable and public services can be guaranteed for all. The workshop, jointly organised by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), AK EUROPA, the Austrian Trade Union Federation Europe office (ÖGB) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), thus linked experts across national and European borders.
Threatened by US President Trump’s hostile trade measures, the EU agreed to engage into new trade negotiations. However, those are marked by a lack of transparency. Even though the scope of the negotiations is officially rather limited, the report “Trading away protection”, published by Corporate Europe Observatory and AK EUROPA, found signs that the EU negotiators and the corporate lobby groups involved are keen on bringing in more aspects. This would lead to a kind of TTIP-light.
The European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström will probably hand her office over to the Irishman Phil Hogan on 1st December. It is thanks to her that more light had been shed on the effects of EU foreign trade on women. Now it is up to the new Commissioner to fight against existing inequalities.
The first hearings of the Commissioners-designate took place in the European Parliament on 30th September. One of the first to be questioned was the Irishman Phil Hogan who appeared before the Trade Committee. He is no stranger on the European stage: currently he is Agriculture Commissioner and was able to do relatively well in his hearing. However, from the AK’s point of view, some of his replies were too vague and there was especially a lack of commitment with regard to sustainability.