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29 April 2015
The three myths of TTIP and some alternatives
This piece was originally published in Spanish and can be found here.
Despite having not yet been implemented, the deal currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union (TTIP) is already a relic of the dominant economic theory. It tries to keep selling us the idea that globalisation is the End of History, that competitiveness is the most efficient way of organising an economy, and that in order to generate well-being and jobs, economic growth must come first. This dogma is simply wrong. Therefore, the problem of TTIP is not of nuance but of root; it is leading us in the opposite direction, away from the prosperous and sustainable society that the majority of us want to build. Let´s review three TTIP myths and present our alternatives.
Myth 1: The globalisation is the end of History
The current model of globalisation has been fuelled by an unending expansion of fossil fuel usage, and its consequent emission of CO2, so that a minority of the humanity can produce and consume more and more. That unrealistic model has finished: there is no more cheap fossil energy or enough atmosphere left to contain its carbon pollution, that won’t lead us to global catastrophe.
However, it seems that TTIP is living in a fourth dimension away from these scientific and economic realities. Its only vision is ‘Business As Usual’ hoping to accelerate the use of fossil fuels that further props-up a broken energy model. Negotiators are toying with a number of proposals to facilitate this:
1. Ending any restriction for exports of "energy goods" from the US to Europe thus giving priority to the dirtiest and most contaminating old-industry energy sources, such as crude oil, petrol or gas.
2. Facilitating the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons by multinationals in the US and the EU, opening the door to fracking and its disastrous consequences to the environment and the climate.
3. Preventing any country from adopting measures favouring localised support for emerging technologies or companies, by ending ‘local content-requirement’ subsidies that help pave the way to developing renewable energy sectors.
This irresponsible "Titanic strategy" is not so much a plan, as a death warrant. It’s an indication of how unfit TTIP is for answering the crucial issues of the 21st century. A more prudent strategy, that is less energy intensive and less contaminating, involves a thorough rethink of our trade system and of our economies. Our future and that of our children will depend upon our ability to "short circuit" these expansive and unsustainable supply chains that propel environmental chaos and inequality globally. Creating circular economies that allow us, as far as possible, to consume and produce local energy and food without so many intermediaries, is what we should be aiming for.
Within a global cooperative network (see next point), we are talking about an economy taking root in the local, favouring quality products with strong ecological added value and building communities from below by bringing production and consumption decisions closer to people on the street. In short, obtaining a more human, more sustainable and more democratic economy seems to be at odds with proposed clauses in TTIP
Myth 2: Competitiveness is the most efficient way to organise an economy
TTIP seeks to reinforce the competitiveness of European and US companies. This is the mantra repeated ad nauseam, and is akin to social and economic Darwinism: the market is a jungle where the most capable and strong will survive, while the rest have the honour of being able to fight for the crumbs thrown to them in charity. TTIP reinforces this commercial cannibalism where the little fish (small companies, the self-employed, cooperatives, etc.) both from the US and from the EU, swim among sharks called multinationals. We know who really stands to win in the end. This commercialized insanity for the most powerful is what is in direct conflict with the common good, our health and well-being, the environment and the rest of living beings.
We need to redress the balance, today tilted towards an extreme competitiveness in favour of the biggest fish and most threatening sharks. Cooperation amongst all those working to oppose aspects of the deal is the only way to defeat it. That is, the ability of the many little fish to act together collectively to alter the narrative and the outcome. And for that, looking at the limits of our natural world and our basic human needs, is where we must start, not from the dogma of unattainable growth and competitiveness.
To that end, it is of course necessary to establish common strategies of cooperation between the EU, US and other nations to put an end to tax havens and casino economies; to promote commercial rules subject to respect of human rights, of decent work and respect to ecosystems (as the Alternative Trade Mandate initiative proposes) and reinforcing the multilateral frameworks to combat climate change.
In addition, it is necessary to strengthen ties between social movements, NGOs, trade unions, parties from both sides of the Atlantic to share experiences and build alternatives based on solidarity and a social and ecological economy. We have common interests, so we should work together to find genuine solutions that will benefit ordinary citizens in the years to come.
Myth 3: For better welfare and employment, economic growth comes first
The TTIP agenda is clear: its aim is to act as a tool to increase growth. Most of the debate has focused on the rate of growth and its effects. The European Commission predicts that in 10 years the GDP will grow at least 0.5%; but many other studies predict the contrary. The disputable figures may be missing a crucial point: growth is not the solution; it is a part of the problem. There are three main reasons for this:
1. Growth is unable to take into account the limits of the planet and will lead directly to ecological collapse. Any short-sighted gains TTIP may bring, will only add to our ecological debt we’re building up for the very near future.
2. Above a €13,000 income threshhold, GDP growth doesn't imply better welfare. As a proof of this fact, Spain is an example that shows it is perfectly possible to grow without creating jobs or reduce inequality. So when the European Commission and the Grand Coalition in the European Parliament (conservatives, social democrats and liberals) say that TTIP will generate more GDP and thus an improvement in living standards for citizens, it varies between ignorance and lies.
3. Growth won’t come again. In Western countries, Spain included, we want to set up a new historical period where growth will go down to zero or negative. In this scenario, TTIP becomes a relic from another era, and raises false hopes that can never be achieved.
At this point in history, what's needed is a huge leap toward to a fair green economy that, in addition, is able to create millions of decent and sustainable jobs in Europe and Spain. If the GDP grows or not, it is entirely secondary: the priority is to meet the real needs of the population within the limits of the planet. For this, two ingredients ignored by TTIP are needed for this transition: redistribution of wealth and more democratic oversight.
In conclusion, a revolutionary treaty that would truly be of benefit to citizens and the planet would be one that marks in its preamble:
"Conscious of the ecological crisis and the huge inequalities of this world and in our respective countries, our transatlantic cooperation aims to ensure a Great Transition for a fair and ecological economy both local and global, in order that the present and future generations are able to live well, happy and prosperous within the actual limits of the planet".