The dangers that lurk in the secret trade negotiations

I try to keep postings on this blog broadly on-topic, and you may feel I’m venturing too far from cooperative matters today.  But bear with me. There is a link.

I have been reading a recently published booklet from the IUF, the global union federation representing food, catering and agricultural workers, called Trade Deals that Threaten Democracy. This focuses on the secretive negotiations going on at the moment between the US and the EU towards a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the parallel negotiations between US and Pacific Rim countries for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).  As the IUF puts it “At the heart of these projects is the drive to further expand the already considerable power of transnational investors by restricting the regulatory power of governments and locking the system into place to prevent new regulatory initiatives or reverse privatizations”.

One reason for popular alienation from traditional politics, I think, is because national governments these days don’t have sovereign power. Their power has leached slowly away into the hands of multinational capital. Trade deals such as TTIP and TPP will accelerate these tendencies, making it easier for private investors to impose their will legally over governments (cry for me, Argentina) and to open up public service provision to the private sector. And it’s a one-way street which you can’t reverse back down.

I could argue relevance by quoting the Quebec summit declaration by the young people and their call for cooperative endeavour to “transform an economy based on the individual accumulation of wealth and power into a system that serves the collective wellbeing of people and our planet”.  But it seems there is a more immediate connection with cooperatives. Keisuke Fuse, the director of international affairs at the Japanese trade union federation Zenroren, writes (in the latest International Union Rights magazine) that the TPP negotiations are directly challenging the Japanese system of mutual aid known as Kyosai. Japan’s very strong cooperative insurance sector is based on Kyosai principles and legislation, and it has been eyed up greedily in recent years by overseas commercial insurers.  Other cooperative organisations in Japan come under the Kyosai system too.  “TPP is the imminent threat for Kyosai to be regulated and transformed into private financial institutions under a competitive business environment; these changes will most likely dissolve them,” Keisuke Fuse warns.