A trade agreement nobody should want
by Serge Halimi
You can safely bet that the (TPA) will not feature as much in the forthcoming European elections as the extradition of illegal immigrants or the (alleged) teaching of "gender theory" in French schools. The TPA will affect 800 million affluent people and almost half the world's wealth (1). The European Commission is negotiating this free trade agreement with Washington on behalf of the EU's 28 member states, and the European parliament elected this May will be expected to ratify it. Nothing is settled as yet, but on 11 February the French president François Hollande, during his state visit to Washington, proposed to speed things up, saying: "We have everything to gain by moving quickly. Otherwise, as we know all too well, there will be a build-up of fears, threats and tensions."
Everything to gain by moving quickly? The reverse is true. On this issue, it's important to put a brake on neoliberalisation, and the industrial lobbies (US and European) behind it. Especially as European MPs do not know the terms of the EU Commissioners' negotiating mandate, while the EU's business strategy (if it has one, apart from laissez-faire) is no secret for the US National Security Agency (NSA) (2). Such dissimulation, even mild, rarely bodes well: there is a danger that the rapid advance of free trade and Atlanticism may force Europeans to import meat containing hormones, genetically modified corn and chickens dipped in chlorine. And it may prevent Americans from favouring their own producers (the "Buy American Act") when they use public funds to combat unemployment.
The reason given to justify the agreement is employment. But supporters of the TPA, encouraged by "studies" often funded by lobbies, have more to say about the jobs created by exports than those lost through imports (or through the over-valued euro). The economist Jean-Luc Gréau notes that every neoliberal breakthrough in the past 25 years - the common market, the single currency, the transatlantic market - was defended on the grounds that it would reduce unemployment. A 1988 report (Défi 1992) announced "we were supposed to have 5m or 6m more jobs, thanks to the common market. But once it was established, Europe, plagued by recession, lost between 3m and 4m jobs" (3).
The Multinational Agreement on Investment (MAI), devised by and for the multinationals, was shredded in 1998 when public opinion was mobilised against it (4). The TPA, which repeats some of its most damaging ideas, needs to go the same way.