TTIP: capitalism on steroids

Mathilde Dahl is an activist in Students Against TTIP. Here she explains what TTIP is, why we should be worried about it, and how we can stop it.

No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium. © Jess Hurd/NoTTIP
No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium.
© Jess Hurd/NoTTIP

A new set of corporate power grabs are in preparation. These deals are negotiated in secrecy, wrapped up as trade agreements and sold to us with the promise of economic growth. Don’t be fooled.

These trade deals pose a massive threat to our democracy, environmental regulations and workers’ rights and will lower standards on food and health. One of these trade deals is TTIP: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

TTIP is a trade deal between EU and the US. The negotiations on TTIP began in 2012. On both sides of the Atlantic politicians saw the need for an economic boost and agreed that a trade and investment deal would do the trick.

A very important part of TTIP is that it is an investment agreement: it aims at increasing investment and give each more access to the other’s markets. The problem is how this is going to be done, because this is no ordinary trade deal – this is capitalism on steroids.

A race to the bottom

To increase investment and trade TTIP aims at removing non-tariff barriers to trade and create more regulatory cooperation. American and European standards and regulation are different in many areas, and these differences are seen as non-tariff barriers to trade that impose costs for corporations wanting to invest abroad. But what corporations view as barriers to trade are actually regulations that protect us and the environment.

For example in the EU the precautionary principle states that for products to be sold in the EU markets they must be proved not to be a danger for our health. In the US, it is the opposite: it must be proved that products are a danger to health to be taken of the market.

Besides, the standards on food are also very different. In the EU there are regulations on how chicken is treated both during production and processing to avoid infections. In the US only the end-product matters, not the production and so the chickens are dipped in chlorine to avoid infections.

Similarly within the cosmetics industry there are big differences: in the EU over 1300 chemicals are banned in the use of cosmetics due to health risks as several of these chemicals are linked to causing cancer. In the US only 11 chemicals are banned.

To remove these barriers TTIP aims at regulatory corporations through different mechanisms such as harmonisation and mutual recognition. This may sound technical and boring, but these policies can have disastrous consequences.

Harmonisation – this refers to an agreement between the EU and the US on common standards and regulations. As we know, our standards are different, and there is no reason to believe that the agreement will result in an increase in standards as these are seen as barriers to trade and investment.

If harmonisation cannot be reached due to differences mutual recognition would be the second best solution. It would mean that the EU and US recognise each other’s standards. So an American company complying with American standards would be allowed to trade in the EU and visa versa. In theory this means that an American cosmetic company that passes US standards would still be able to export its products to the EU markets, even though the product itself would never be accepted according to EU standards.

Not only would lower standard products be sold in the European markets, it would result in a race to the bottom in standards. Companies would move to wherever standards are lower, reduce costs, lower prices, and out-compete products that hold a higher standard.

If this is not enough, TTIP proposes a regulatory cooperation body that will give corporations the opportunity to co-write legislation. Corporations will be warned of any proposed legislation that may have an impact on their profits and business. They will be given the opportunity to give their input into the legislation. This means corporations will be allowed to lobby on all of our future legislation even before the public is involved.

But this is only one part of TTIP. The trade deal also contain a much more controversial element: corporate courts.


The most controversial part of TTIP is ISDS – Investor State Dispute Settlement.

ISDS is a corporate court system where corporation can sue governments for decisions that could harm their ability to make profits. ISDS does already exist in several trade agreements around the world, and has been used several times by multinational corporations to get their way. In 2012 a French corporation, Veolia, sued the Egyptian government for introducing minimum wage. The tobacco giant Phillip Morris is suing both Uruguay and Australia for imposing plain packaging on cigarettes. Introducing plain packaging is a policy introduced by governments to improve public health. For corporations this is interfering with their ability to make profits.

With TTIP European governments will face similar lawsuits. This is particularly dangerous for the NHS. Parts of the NHS are already privatized and future re-nationalisation might be subject to lawsuits from corporations whose profits are affected.

In other words, corporations are refusing to use our already existing juridical systems, and are demanding their own court system. In addition, governments will be required to pay for the legal costs of the lawsuits whether or not they win. The cost is estimated to average around 8 million dollars per suit, paid with taxpayers’ money. ISDS is also a one-way system – governments cannot sue corporations for breaking with domestic legislation.

The TTIP negotiations are carried out in secrecy and outside any democratic consultations.

Meanwhile, corporate lobby groups are spending millions to get their way with TTIP and are actively encouraged to provide input (e.g. lobbying). In the preparatory phase of the negotiations there were 560 consolations with outside groups: 92% of these were with corporate lobby groups and only 4% with public interest groups.

It is clear that TTIP is not about trade – it’s about giving multinational corporations more power and it poses a massive threat to our democracy.


But there is good news – the campaign against TTIP is growing and TTIP has become the most toxic acronym in Europe.

No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium. © Jess Hurd/NoTTIP
No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium.
© Jess Hurd/NoTTIP

In October this year a European Citizens’ Initiative was handed in to the European Commission. Over 3 million people signed the petition against TTIP. On the international day of action over 250,000 people marched in the streets of Berlin to oppose TTIP. Also in the UK resistance is growing: 26 local councils have declared themselves TTIP-Free Zones. It is an act of opposing TTIP from the bottom up, showing that people at local levels everywhere are against TTIP. This is happening because people are fighting; they are lobbying their local MPs and MEPs, taking action, getting into the local media and spreading awareness.

I am an activist in Students Against TTIP which is a network of young people and students campaigning against TTIP and similar trade deals. We consist of groups based on campuses in the UK. New groups are popping up as committed students are establishing groups at their universities. Our campaign is to get Universities to declare themselves TTIP-Free Zones. We organise actions, arrange debates and events about TTIP and we want to get more students involved and aware of this trade deal.

Everyone can get involved whether or not you are a student! If there is no group at your university we will help you set one up. Send us an email: or check us out on Facebook if you want to get involved!

There are many ways to get involved in the campaign as all kinds of groups are campaigning against TTIP with different perspectives. If you are concerned about the environment look up your local environmental group or if you are worried about health and the NHS you will find a group for that as well. That is one thing that might be good about TTIP: it brings together people with different experiences and perspectives in the campaign against it.

I started campaigning against TTIP because TTIP represents all that is wrong with our economic system. The campaign against TTIP is also a fight against the neoliberal agenda of putting profit before people. Grassroots movements have stopped things like this in the past and we will do it again.


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