Trade: Time for a new vision
The Alternative Trade Mandate has been developed in extensive civil society consultations all over Europe.
The members and supporters of the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance do not necessarily agree with each
and every detail in this paper, but support the general line of thinking. We also consider it a living document
and an invitation for others to join the debate on the future of EU trade and investment policy.
The Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance is an alliance of development and farmers’ groups, Fair Trade activists, trade unionists, migrant workers, environmentalists, women’s, human rights, faith and consumer groups from all over Europe, developing an alternative vision of European trade policy that puts people and planet before big business.
It must be based on a new set of principles, and respect the EU’s international commitments and legal obligations to ensure
coherence in its policies, be they on democracy, cooperation, public participation, human rights, social justice, gender equality or sustainability.
Transparency should be at the heart of such policies: in addition to a genuine and continuous participation process, the EU and its member states must assess the impacts of their actions and make the results public, so that citizens can make informed choices.
Convinced by this need, over 50 European organisations – representing farmers, trade unions, human rights advocates, environmentalists, fair trade networks and development workers – have come together to develop the Alternative Trade Mandate. This calls for an overhaul of the trade regime – one that leads to real workable alternatives, where trade works for everyone, and the environment.
Unlike current trade negotiations – held behind closed doors with privileged access for multinational corporations – consultations for this mandate have been participatory and transparent, and have highlighted 10 areas of trade in need of reform.
This mandate discusses the 10 areas in detail, as well as the essential principle underlying these reforms:
The need for democratic control over trade and investment policy making. This document is open for comment because we believe only a trade mandate by and for people and our planet will work. Please read this document and contribute your thoughts. Trade should be about exchange, with ecologically and culturally distinct regions equitably sharing their products, skills and creativity. But in recent decades, trade has become less about exchange of goods and more about eliminating social and environmental safeguards in pursuit of corporate profit.
The proposed EU-US free trade agreement – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – is a good example: while the elimination of trade barriers between Europe and the US is touted as a way out of the economic doldrums for these two blocs, in reality it is set to seriously erode social, environmental and labour rights. This ever-quickening race to the bottom has destroyed lives, livelihoods and communities. Today, trade is used as a system of control by the powerful, and to promote the specific interests of the few.
The injustice of our international trade system has now hit home in the heart of Europe – for Europe’s economic crisis is not just one of debt, but of corporate trade too. The elimination of capital controls and the liberalisation of financial services that allowed banks and the financial services sector to recklessly speculate – added to trade rules in the EU that allowed huge trade imbalances between members – have exacerbated Europe’s debt crisis.
The subsequent imposition of privatisation, the gutting of labour protection laws and swingeing social cuts (while the banks that fuelled the crisis are protected by trade laws) mirror the damaging impact of trade ruleson on millions of people elsewhere around the globe. Our trading system also consistently breaches the limits to our planet’s biosphere. The EU’s ecological footprint – generated by its trading system and its levels of consumption – is one of the largest in the world. This has led to the dispossession of communities to land, waterand other resources worldwide, while bringing our planet ever closer to catastrophic climate change.
These democratically controlled trade and investment policies lie at the heart of the Alternative Trade Mandate. Our mandate demands trade and investment policies that allow: an industrial policy to be promoted, to favour a just transition towards a different development model. binding social and environmental regulations to be strengthened, and full transparency in global value chains.
A fair distribution of income within global value chains, guaranteeing a stable and decent income for producers and workers, and
affordable prices for consumers, particularly for necessities such as food and medicines. governments, parliaments and public
authorities to have full rights to regulate financial markets and the financial services sector, in order to protect social rights and
welfare, secure sustainability, safeguard democratic control, and ensure financial stability (including restricting capital flows).
The exchange of, and free access to, knowledge– e.g. through open source systems, seed exchange initiatives or patent pools, and open licensing to promote innovation and access to medicines. for certain sectors, such as public goods such as water, health and education, or financial services, to be excluded from European trade and investment negotiations.
Common but differentiated responsibilities to be recognised for developing countries, and special and differential treatment to be ensured for the poorest ones. the precautionary principle (where responsibility is taken to protect the public from suspected, if not proven, harm), to be applied in all regulation and trade and investment rules.
Human rights, women’s rights, labour rights, indigenous rights, and the protection of ourenvironment to take priority over corporate and private interests. structural transformation, universal access to quality public services, social protection, higher labour and environmental standards, democracy and transparency.
Governments to regulate imports, exports and investments in pursuit of their own strategies for sustainable development. countries, regions and communities to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of their own goods and services.
European trade policy to respect the right of countries and regions to develop – and give priority to – local and regional over global trade (for example, in the food sector). European governments and parliaments to hold their corporations to account for the social and environmental consequences of their operations in Europe and elsewhere.
Food sovereignty to be respected, allowing countries and communities to prioritise local and regional food systems.
The Alternative Trade Mandate’s underlying principle:
Democratic control over trade and investment policy making to develop fairer and more democratic societies, we not only need to change the EU’s trade and investment policies as described in the next sections, we also need to change the way in which decisions about trade and investment are made: People need to claim democratic control over the EU’s trade and investment policy processes.
The Commission also grants business undue influence over its trade-policy making – in hundreds of exclusive meetings behind closed
doors. As a result, corporate fingerprints are all over the EU positions in trade negotiations, leading to results that are not in the interest of Europe’s people.
De facto irreversibility of EU trade agreements Trade and investment agreements severely limit the future democratic choices of a society because they ‘lock in’ policy options and grant corporations far-reaching powers to challenge new laws.
Changing trade agreements is much more difficult than changing ordinary national legislation and can lead to costly compensation claims.
The Alternative Trade Mandate view: ending secrecy, corporate capture and EC dominance We propose a totally new procedure for initiating, negotiating, finalising and reviewing trade agreements that ensures a much larger role for civil society and parliaments.
This means significantly altering the European Commission’s role in trade policy, preventing corporate capture,
and getting rid of the excessive secrecy that characterises the process at the moment.
The secrecy of trade negotiations:
EU trade negotiations with third countries take place behind closed doors. No negotiating position or text is
released to the public in either country until after negotiations have been concluded – even though EU trade agreements affect Europeans as much as any publicly debated law.
Trade and investment policy is controlled by unelected officials The EU’s trade policy is dominated by the European Commission – a non- elected body. The Commission alone has the right to initiate trade policy, propose trade legislation and undertake trade negotiations.
Neither citizens nor the European or national parliaments have this right. The role of the European Parliament is limited purely to the ‘nuclear option’ of either saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a trade deal when negotiations have been concluded. Mock consultations of citizens
It’s rare that the European Commission grants civil society the chance to discuss the issues at hand. Even when it does, the discussions are very technical, have a pro-free trade bias and no formal status in terms of affecting policy.
Corporate lobby groups in the driving seat. By contrast, the European Commission allows corporate lobby groups access to sensitive
information about on-going trade negotiations – information withheld from public interest groups.
Assuring transparency and openness:
All negotiating positions and draft texts must be published promptly.
The Commission, member states and parliaments must regularly and pro-actively provide online access to information about meetings and correspondence between officials, parliamentarians and lobbyists, in order to inform the public on who’s attempting to influence trade negotiations, on whose behalf, with what means and agenda, and with what success. Strengthening the role of parliaments: The starting point for our alternative is reducing the role of the European Commission, and strengthening that of parliaments.
This needs to happen at all stages of the decision-making and negotiating process. If democracy is about political decisions being made by people and their elected representatives, trade and investment policies cannot remain with an unelected body.
Assuring meaningful civil society participation:
In order to ensure a maximum level of inclusion and participation, national parliaments should organise meaningful civil society participation at the national level. Only national parliaments and the European Parliament should be able to take the initiative to
launch the process leading to trade negotiations.
But before the process of initiating trade negotiations begins, extensive independent, transparent andinclusive ‘needs tests’ must be conducted with civil society organisations, including NGOs, trade unions and other representative bodies in EU member states. Similarly, needs tests should take place in the partner country to find out whether a trade agreement would be in the public interest in the first place. The parliaments will also regularly organise public consultations on the progress of the negotiations, and when a draft agreement has been reached between the Commission and the partner country.
Conclusion and revision of trade agreements:
When a provisional agreement has been reached between the EU and the partner country, the agreement will be subject to an independently conducted Human Rights and Sustainability Impact Assessment (HRSIA). This will be published, allowing for another round of
public consultation and democratic scrutiny.
Both national parliaments and the European Parliament must have the right to propose amendments to the provisional text, which has to be renegotiated. The final agreement will have to be ratified by European and national parliaments.
Once the agreement has entered into force, a thorough assessment must take place at least every five years.
At any time, European and national parliaments, as well as the partner country, can demand to negotiate revisions to the agreement.
Preventing corporate capture:
Throughout the consultation and decision-making process, privileged access and ‘policy capture’ by industry lobby groups
must be prevented. Consequently, consultations must ensure that a diverse range of interests and viewpoints are pro-actively reflected, including those that will be directly and indirectly affected by a trade agreement.