Sunday, 17 January 2016

TTIP and Brexit as concerns for Quakers

On 7 December 2015 the Deputy Recording Clerk e-mailed Area Clerks with a message from Meetings for Sufferings, which felt it is important to speak out urgently on the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) . Friends were encouraged to engage with the issues. Thinking it possible that Quaker Testimonies were being challenged by a major issue, I studied the papers which had been circulated.

At first sight the picture was alarming. In a ‘Story of Witness’ of October 2015 from a Friend who is also a Green Party activist with trade union backing, we are told that TTIP would mean that contracts let by local authorities for waste collection and such like could no longer safeguard the environment or generally be in the best interests of communities, because of a mysterious process called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Elsewhere in the material circulated by Meetings for Suffering, we are told that tyhe three pillars of TTIP are deregulation, privatisation and corporate courts.  War on Want says that TTIP endangers governments' ability to regulate, and endanger citizens' rightsw to basic services like water, health and energy.

The language of the opponents of TTIP is anti-capitalist and suggests that governments and the official negotiators are tools of international corporations.  Indeed, the view has been expressed that if the European Commission is in favour of TTIP, that is sufficient to damn it. However, once one reads the papers circulated by the Deputy Recording Clerk, including one produced by a joint working group of non-conformist churches , one learns that the detailed concerns about TTIP, including ISDS, are being addressed in the course of the negotiations. The joint public issues paper concludes that TTIP will benefit international trade but there needs to be more clarity about protection for the environment and for developing countries. I concluded that the concern in the Story of Witness was exaggerated.  I have seen separate material from War on Want's pronouncements that is particularly biassed and inflammatory.

QF&P 8.11 sets out how Quakers should translate their faith into social action, by helping to build a just and peaceful world. That means we should in principle be in favour of international cooperation and free trade and against the protection of special interest groups. The economic and environmental issues underlying the TTIP controversy are complicated both scientifically and politically. For example, there is no simple correlation between international trade and environmental degradation.  The manufacturing and exporting of solar panels ought, other things being equal, help tackle climate change.  Nor is there a simple correlation between human rights and protectionism.  There may be a case for special protection for emerging industries in the developing world but this should not be an absolute rule.  There may come a point where protection for a favoured industry or group of workers becomes anti-competitive, even corrupt. The interests of producers and consumers need to be balanced, and this can be done through agreements like TTIP.  Indeed, if there has to be any skew in the balance it should be towards the consumer, rather than the producer, because we are all consumers but not all of us - those too old to work, for example - are producers.  This means that the principle of equality when applied to the economic sphere should mean equality of consumers i.e. we should all have access to the basics of life and producers should not be exempt from fair competition.

I would say to the opponents of TTIP that they will find there are no simple answers. TTIP is something about which reasonable people of good will, Quakers or not, can disagree.  I would also say to the campaigners that we live in a parliamentary democracy with a lively forum for debate on the internet and in the other media. It is open to the Friend with strong but controversial opinions about TTIP to pursue his concern through secular channels, including the trade union and the political party for which he acts. It is unnecessary for him and other opponents of TTIP also to raise the matter with the Society of Friends.  My own Area Meeting, in being invited to join the campaign against TTIP but wishing to respond in a Quakerly way, has decided to seek more information before proceeding further.

A question in my mind is why Quakers are giving so much attention to TTIP and none whatsoever, as far as I know, to the forthcoming referendum on the EU.  It seems to me that Brexit is something which should concern Friends as much as TTIP, if not more.  Brexit would be at variance with the internationalism which springs from the Quaker testimony of equality of souls and is expressed in the term, the brotherhood of man, to be found in the 1918 Foundations of a True Social Order. In addition, even if Brexit were to be economically neutral to the UK (which I doubt, as it would be much more likely to be disruptive) it would be a victory for the right-wing little Englanders who want to pull up the national drawbridge and for libertarian cranks.  The values of these two groups are different from those of the Society.  I suggest that Brexit is far more of a threat to Quaker values and to the public interest than TTIP.

1 comment:

  1. This is interesting, but could you summarise the salient points of TTIP and the arguments for and against our forward by you and the memo. Then it would be easier to understand.