Delegates protesting against the TPP at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. (Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich)

Dead in the water: Why the TPP and TTIP trade deals probably won't go anywhere

There have been years of protests on each side of the Atlantic


Kate Aronoff
September 4, 2016 2:30AM (UTC)

This article originally appeared in In These Times.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is dead, at least according to Angela Merkel’s second-in-command. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may not be far behind.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said last week that “negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it.” According to Gabriel, who also serves as his country’s economy minister, negotiators from the European Union and United States have failed — despite 14 rounds of talks — to align on any item out of 27 chapters being discussed. Gabriel and his ministry are not directly involved in the negotiations.

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EU officials were quick to downplay Sigmar’s statement, saying they hoped to “close this deal by the end of the year.” But Gabriel isn’t the first to cry foul on the TTIP, which, if enacted, would establish the world’s largest free trade zone between the United States and the EU’s 28 member states. In May, French negotiators threatened to block the agreement. U.S. negotiators have also reportedly been angry over the passage of a similar agreement between Canada and the EU, which included protections U.S. negotiators don’t want included in the TTIP.

Last week’s TTIP news comes on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that the Senate would not vote on the TPP in the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress. (The Obama administration countered, saying it still hopes to pass the deal before the next president takes office.)

Both trade announcements follow years of protests on each side of the Atlantic to fight the TTIP and the TPP, especially from unions and environmental groups.

"The fact that TTIP has failed is testament to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against it, the three million people who signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped, and the huge coalition of civil society groups, trade unions, progressive politicians and activists who came together to stop it,” writes Kevin Smith of Global Justice Now, an organization that has worked to fight TTIP in the United Kingdom.

While the TPP has become a lightning rod for labor and other progressive organizations in the United States, the TTIP has slipped mostly under the radar stateside. That’s partially because talks over it, which began in 2013, have taken place almost entirely behind closed doors. Among the proposals unearthed are provisions to open European public services to U.S. businesses and to scale back online privacy protections. European groups have also raised the concern that the deal could send jobs from their continent to the United States, where trade unions and labor protections are weaker than in the EU.

Like the TPP, the TTIP would dismantle regulations in areas like banking and the environment by limiting governments’ ability to impose rules on transnational corporations. Both trade deals would further allow the investor-state dispute settlement system, which permits corporations to sue states. (TransCanada Corp. — the Canadian company behind the now-defunct Keystone XL oil pipeline — is currently seeking $15 billion from Washington under a similar NAFTA provision for rejecting the controversial project.)

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Though both presidential candidates in the United States have voiced their opposition to the TPP, neither has said much about TTIP. Hillary Clinton changed her tune on the former, which she pushed for as secretary of state. The move is largely seen as a response to dedicated protests from unions and community groups that have been mobilizing to stop the talks since they began, and as a reaction to the fact that both her primary and general election opponents have spoken out aggressively against so-called free trade agreements.

In a letter this month, a coalition of progressive groups including Demand Progress and 350 Action called on Clinton to reject a vote on the TPP in the next session. “Allowing a lame-duck vote,” they write, “would be a tacit admission that corporate interests matter more than the will of the people.”

Beyond progressive organizations’ fold, though, lies a growing bipartisan resentment of NAFTA-style deals. A poll released in April found that just 17 percent of Germans and 18 percent of Americans support the TTIP — likely not enough to save deals like the TTIP and TPP from a political climate that increasingly sees free trade agreements as anything but free.


Kate Aronoff

MORE FROM Kate Aronoff

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