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ISSUE 68 page 3

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Fate of controversial TTIP agreement in the balance
 ADVOCATES OF THE PROPOSED TRANSATLANTIC TRADE AND INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP (TTIP) between the EU and the U.S.A. claim that creating the biggest free trade area in the World would add €100 billion to the European economy, 0.5% of GDP. According to them 1 to 2 million jobs would be created and each EU household would be €550 per year better off by 2027. This would be achieved by lowering tariffs and harmonising rules and regulations between the two blocs. But it is the second of these that has provoked opposition and a growing resistance to the plan. Only about €20-30 billion of the assumed benefits would flow from scrapping charges on imports. The rest would depend on health and safety, data protection, environmental and agricultural laws, as well as rules on food, alcohol and tobacco, converging for the economic gains to be made. Many consumers’ associations, trade unions and campaigning groups fear that  lower American standards would weaken EU laws. Their discomfort has been exacerbated by several other features of the negotiations. Special courts known as Investor-State Dispute Mechanisms (ISDS) are often set up by such deals. They allow foreign companies to sue governments if they feel that they have been discriminated against. Opponents say that this will enable private interests to contest changes in national laws.
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Already Phillip Morris, the U.S. tobacco company, has sued the Australian government for introducing plain cigarette packaging and French company Veolia has used an ISDS procedure against the Egyptian government for increasing the minimum wage. In the U.K. it is feared that if a future government took back parts of the National Health Service into public control after privatisation, firms who benefitted from the private contracts could try to reverse the decision. The British government has wobbled on whether the NHS is exempt from the agreement with the Unite union seizing on remarks by the head of the country’s negotiating team saying that it should be included. Added to this concern is the veil of secrecy that surrounds the bargaining itself. Citing commercial confidentiality or the need to not ‘reveal your hand’ the EU team, headed by Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, has kept the process close to its chest with the occasional leak from groups such as the Green MEPs revealing that 93% of consultation meetings have been with industry. The similar, apparently signed-off, agreement between the EU and Canada, known as CETA, ran into similar criticism when the Canadian authorities revealed far more of the text than the European Commission and the inclusion of ISDS caused the German government to reject it.

German anti-TTIP demonstrators make their feelings known

 
German bankers welcome union push for higher wages; now for Amazon
GERMAN TRADE UNIONS RECENTLY GAINED SOME UNUSUAL allies in their push to raise members’ wages. Given the country’s massive current account surplus and the low level of inflation over much of the EU, Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann and chief economist Jens Ulbrich have both called for a more aggressive negotiating stance. Worried about the risk of deflation (see our last issue) the bankers see pay deals like the 3% rise for public sector workers agreed by the Ver.di union as a means of reaching the European Central Bank’s (ECB) inflation target of 2%. Inflation in Germany is about 1% while the euro-zone figure is stuck on 0.5%. Weidmann mentioned increased productivity and possible future inflation as reasons for the increases as well as the scarcity of available workers: ‘In a series of sectors and regions, we have near-full employment and reports of labour shortages are piling up’. Meanwhile one group of employees which may have to  wait a bit longer for a decent

Weidemann, J.

Jens Weidmann

salary were the focus of unions in five EU Member states, meeting in Berlin. The U.S.-based multi-national Amazon has proved resistant to pressure so far. Strikes in Germany (see issue 67) and France have failed to shift the e-commerce giant’s low-pay policy and union-busting tactics in the U.K. have made it difficult to organise workplaces. Campaign strategies agreed by the GMB, Ver.di and CGT are thought to include linking the company’s complicated tax-avoidance arrangements with the in-work benefits often paid by the state to bump up wages to livable levels. These amount to government subsidy of Amazon, say campaigners. The firm is currently building new plants in the Czech Republic and Poland but unions plan co-ordination to stop them shifting existing work to these sites.

 




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