Some ideas about undermining trade spin

‘Spin’ is a main mechanism (along with secrecy and technical trade language) used to push forward the international trade agreements and to hide what is really involved in the supposed ‘trade’ agenda.

Often, the same spin terms are used in the UK, by the EU Trade Commission, by the US and other governments and at the WTO. They are reinforced by concerted repetition.

Media fail to question these terms for a range of reasons, including the unified use, by the trade promotion side , of similar terms procuding an orchestrated, unified message. This reflects the pervasive role and influence of the City of London Corporation and its ‘trade’ promotion mechanisms, as well as the amount of resources it has at its diposal for this.

It is an important part of resistance to the international corporate trade agenda to see through the spin and help others to do likewise.

Trade and ‘trade agreements’ – why they’re different.
There has always been trading, and references to ‘trade’ invoke unquestionable good. But international trade agreements are different. They are actually legalised structures to lock in corporate rights. As corporations get rights, the rights of states to control them or to limit corporate activities is lost, and thus democracy is lost. These are the consequences of ‘trade agreements’.

Trade’ as in international trade agreements

Trade is a feel-good word, but now in trade agreements, it includes the shifting of legal rights from states and their democratically elected governments to transnational corporations, deregulation, including of financial services, strengthened corporate patent rights to many things that arguably should never be patented, rights for transnational corporations to access government public procurement money and to sue governments and be compensated with public money, the enforced break up of state-owned enterprises, and the disallowing of governments abilities to stimulate their economies and provide employment through public spending. All this now hides behind ‘trade’, in trade agreements.

‘Protectionism’ – as an unquestionable evil
Politicians protecting the interests of citizens who have voted them in to do exactly that is not a bad thing. Governments supporting their own industries, including in relation to jobs, is not a bad thing.

The opposite of ‘protectionism’ is liberalisation in favour of transnational corporations.

Therefore the pros and cons of ‘protectionism’, including who gains and who loses, should be considered. It is not a black and white issue.

‘Transparency’–what it means in trade terms
While ‘transparency’ sounds benign and desireable and generally is when applied to politics (including lobbying), bureaucracies and corporate activity, it has a different meaning when commandeered for the trade agenda.
Then it means obligations on states to make their regulations absolutely ‘transparent’ to transnational corporations so that corporate lawyers can easily
pounce on any discrepancy or liberalisation failure. It shifts the onus from corporate law teams seeking benefit from e.g. opportunistic gaps in regulations, and thus corporate expense, to states, including states that are poorly resourced to deal with the complexities of the international trade agenda.

With this shift of onus come penalties for any failure, including inadvertent failure, on this sort of ‘transparency’

‘Liberalisation’ – often used , rarely explained.
In trade terms service liberalisation means states opening service sector investment opportunities to transnational investors and keeping them open, effectively permanently, when those service liberalisations are committed to trade agreements. This will then apply to all private sector and privatised public sector sell-offs or contracting in that service sector.

Although the word ‘liberalisation’ suggests ‘freedom’, liberalisation trade commitments tie governments into rules that restrict their policy space while giving rights to transnational corporations.

Liberalisation is not a natural progression, to which there is no alternative, but a political choice that governments make.

‘Brightest and best’– hiding the reality of cheap labour moved across borders for profit.

Imported labour is often referred to as ‘the brightest and best’. However the ‘brightest and best’ Mode 4 intracorporate transferees (ICTs), being brought into the UK as a result of Mode 4 commitments made under the Uruguay Round, are being paid the statutory Minimum Wage (even less until Parliamentary questions were asked). This hardly seems an appropriate reward for ‘the brightest and best’, and suggests, instead, cheap labour.

Yet still this phrase is used to promote and justify measures, including the effectively permanent Mode 4 measures in trade agreements, to cover the importation of temporary cheap labour. (N.B in Brussels the phrase is ‘best and brightest’). The source of calls for keeping cheap labour entry pathways open is often the City of Londond financial services industry.

‘Skills shortage’ –also used to cover the importing of cheap labour.
This often more accurately means a shortage of skilled workers who will work as cheaply as people brought in from low wage countries. It tends to become self-fulfilling if the host country government fails to take the initiative to facilitate skills development or if host country workers are deterred from investing in their own skills because cheaper and more compliant brought-in workers are automatically preferred or if enforced job competition with workers from low wage countries, possibly tied to an employer for a visa, is inevitable.

‘Public procurement’ – a legitimate corporate target for liberalisation?
Public procurement (or government procurement) means all government spending, at all levels of government, in fact resources that clearly belong to populations. Public procurement in the trade agreement context means transnational corporations not just accessing but gaining rights to access government spending.

In the public procurement liberalisation grab, governments correspondingly lose policy space to decide how public resources are used. For instance, with liberalised public procurement, the use of funded infrastructure projects to boost domestic employment is disallowed. This means a government cannot really pursue any Keynesian economic stimulus action, or not one that will have that effect.

‘Level playing field’ – is it?
Trade agreements and trade liberalisation are supposed to produce a level playing field for companies, but they actually give transnational corporations advantages over domestic companies. They can utilise transnational advantages of access to credit and cheap labour, of scale and the political influence that goes with size, to dominate markets. This tends to result in a concentration of transnational corporate power and a reduction rather than an increase in market competition as smaller players are eliminated.

‘Competitiveness’ – competing with whom?
The focus on ‘competitiveness’ is often a rationale for downward pressure on working conditions and wages. Being competitive with countries with low labour standards and low wages means lowering labour standards and wages in places where better conditions and wages have been achieved.

The OECD urges OECD countries to be ‘competitive’ but asmilutaneously urges non-OECD countries to be ‘competitive’.

‘Increased productivity’ – is related to competitiveness.
Although increased productivity can be achieved through real efficiency improvements in processes and through technological development, it is usually used in terms of ‘worker productivity’, to be achieved through more work for less pay.

International comparisons in worker productivity are used to facilitate downward pressure on workers. In the UK we hear how US productivity has increased, compared with the UK, but not what that means for workers lives there.

‘Increased productivity’ also includes the threat of mechanisation of an industry, to pressure workers to accept poor pay and conditiosn with the threat of jobs losses through mechanisation.

‘Jobs and growth’- the fashionable spin
In an international context of underemployment and economies in decline, this spin phrase is being used to push through corporate-interest neoliberal measures. It has been used and overused through 2012-14 in Brussels, by national politicians and other representatives (e.g. the Mayor of London). It is included in EU documentation and initiatives, and it was the joint US/EU ‘High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth’ that recommended a US/EU free trade agreement.

‘Ageing population’ – as rationale for corporate-benefit shifts
This phrase is frequently used to justify the importation of cheap labour or capitalist growth through population increase, as well as privatising/liberalising changes to health services.

Interestingly, in Saudi Arabia, the country’s ‘young population’ is the supposed reason to privatise/liberalise.

‘Guidance’ – as a way to soften law or at least to soften resistance to law.
‘Guidance’ statements are being provided in a range of contexts: to supposedly ameliorate trade agreement rules but also in relation to corporate-benefit national legislation and regulations that ahve been prepared to fit with trade agreements. This is because the City of London Corporation has a major role in the EU trade agenda and also dominates the UK legislative process to fit with that broader agenda.

At the EU level, the EU is now including Investor/State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in its EU trade agreements. The EU has produced ‘guidance’ on how ISDS commitments should be interpreted for its trade negotiations.

At the UK national level, guidance was produced for the regulations formulated to implement the Health and Social Care Act legislation that ‘harmonises’ the UK National Health Service with the US health investment regulatory framework. While the regulations enforce competitive tendering, the ‘guidance’ supposedly softens this imperative.

But clearly, ‘guidance’ does not affect legal frameworks of trade agreements or legislation. Law trumps ‘guidance’. If trade rules or legislation need amelioration then it is those legal structures that need to be changed.

Mode 4 – what his obscure technical term really entails

In the language of the World Trade Organisation, Mode 4 refers to ‘measures affecting natural persons who are service suppliers of a (WTO) Member, and natural persons of a Member who are employed by a service supplier of a Member, in respect of the supply of a service’.

What this WTO language conceals and facilitates is a trade concession that allows transnational corporations to supply, and/or to use, cheap temporary imported labour disguised as ‘presence of natural persons of one WTO member in the territory of another for the purpose of providing a service’.

The EU includes Mode 4 offers in all its trade deals, stipulating ‘skilled’ labour.

Natural persons – e.g. as used in Mode 4

Natural persons means people

Legal persons – are corporations

See this video on how corporations achieved corporate personhood and rights in the US context.

‘Trade agreements will kick start economies’
While this is the current claim, previous claims were, consecutively, that trade agreements would be the answer to: international terrorism (after 9/11), climate change and the international banking crisis. Now the TTIP is porposed as the way to solve problems of ‘jobs and growth’

Scientific proof v precautionary principle – really?

The supposed ‘science-based’ approach of US safety regulations, particualrlyof food safety is essentially corporate self-certification, according to the ’generally recognised as safe’(GRAS) standard, from conclusions from corporations’ own vetted data, without peer review, and which is only required to show that harm is not proven .

The EU precautionary principle, enshrined in the EU Treaty though not consistently adhered to, is scientific in requiring proof of no harm, thus addressing risk and taking account of the limitations of scientific development at any point in time.

This is likely to be a big issue in the TTIP, where the trade agreement aim of ‘regulatory harmonisation’ is likely to involve corporate attacks on the higher EU health and safety standards of the EU.