Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Could massive EU-US trade deal be extended to Israel?

There are many reasons to oppose the planned Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).


It is a designed to make capitalism the only permissible system in both the US and the European Union. It is being negotiated in a secretive and anti-democratic fashion. The groundwork for it has been laid by an unholy alliance of banks and the manufacturers of cigarettes, cars and chemicals.


And it may be extended to Israel.


Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade commissioner, stated earlier this year that "other countries close to us could link into the agreement" after the contents of TTIP are finalized.


Israel enjoys an extremely close trading relationship with the EU. A deal approved by the European Parliament in 2012 paves the way for Israel to be integrated into the Union's single market for goods and services.


The idea that Israel would be eligible to join TTIP is being mulled over by the cognoscenti in both Brussels and Washington.


Boon for polluters


The Centre for European Policy Studies, an EU-funded "think tank", issued a paper last year which claimed that Israel was "keen to benefit from effective market access to TTIP." The paper suggested that the goal of the partnership to achieve a harmonized approach to setting regulations between the EU and the US would be of particular relevance to Israel's chemical exporters.


It is important to spell out what such "regulatory convergence" -- to use the frequently impenetrable jargon of trade negotiators -- would mean in practice. As things stand, the EU has more leeway than the US to take precautionary action against substances deemed hazardous towards human health or the environment. A core demand of the chemical industry is that the scope to take precautionary measures should be restricted.


If policy-makers capitulate to these demands, then TTIP will be a boon for polluters.


The elite appears to be taking a "not if but when" approach towards Israel's involvement in TTIP.


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- a deceptively-named outfit partly financed by the Pentagon -- recommends that close attention be paid to the order in which outside states are invited to join the "partnership." As Turkey has a customs union with the EU, it is considered logical by the denizens of think tank land that it should be integrated into TTIP.


Yet if Turkey is invited to join TTIP before Israel, then it may obstruct Israel's involvement, according to a Carnegie analysis.


Carnegie's urbane "experts" neglect to remind us that Israel launched an unprovoked attack against Turkey in 2010 when it murdered nine Turkish activists trying to break the siege of Gaza.


Chilling effect


The campaign group War on Want has voiced concerns over efforts by some members of the US Congress to make TTIP conditional on outlawing boycotts, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel.


Whether or not those efforts succeed, it strikes me that TTIP could have a chilling effect on political activism.


The most contentious proposal on the a table in the TTIP talks relates to a dispute settlement mechanism. In effect, that would be a court system to which only corporations and their legal teams would have access. They would be able to sue public authorities over and demand financial compensation for laws or decisions perceived as barriers to trade.


A European government that bans the importation of goods from Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank could conceivably find itself being sued if Israel joins TTIP. Even if Israel does not join, public authorities could find themselves sued if they bar firms that abet Israeli apartheid -- such as Hewlett-Packard or G4S -- from applying for contracts.


I am not exaggerating. Clauses on dispute settlement in other free trade agreements have been invoked to challenge progressive measures by big business.


Veolia, the French behemoth known for building a tram network to serve Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, is contesting increases to Egypt's minimum wage. The tobacco maker Philip Morris is suing against anti-smoking initiatives in Uruguay and Australia. The fossil fuel industry is seeking to overturn Quebec's ban on the ecologically destructive practice of fracking.


TTIP is not a done deal. It has encountered stiff opposition in Europe. Ultimately, it could be defeated through large-scale public mobilization.


The elite's apparent willingness to extend TTIP to the apartheid of Israel state makes that mobilization all the more necessary.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 April 2015.

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