Tipping point.

Author:Atkinson, Dan
 
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According to their advocates, two international trade agreements are set to transform the economic landscape and spread prosperity. But a groundswell of opposition is highlighting the risks posed by such deals. Dan Atkinson investigates

World trade is about to undergo some seismic shifts. In November 2014 commerce ministers meeting under the auspices of the EU's foreign affairs council restated their goal of a "deep, ambitious, balanced and mutually beneficial" transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the US. Negotiations on the putative liberalisation treaty had started in July.

The European Commission estimates that the TTIP could add 95bn [pounds sterling] annually to the EU's economy, making each household 432 [pounds sterling] a year better off on average. The council's statement comprised three lengthy paragraphs. The second contained scant detail about the pact itself, focusing instead on promoting the concept.

It stated: "The council underlines the importance to communicate better the scope and the benefits of the agreement and to enhance transparency and dialogue with civil society in order to highlight the benefits for European citizens and the opportunities it would create for EU companies--in particular, small and medium-sized businesses."

Meanwhile, another big trade treaty is being painstakingly negotiated on the other side of the world. The trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) aims to open markets in the US and 11 other countries, including Japan and Australia. Forecasting the advantages of signing up, government agency the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) stated: "Real income benefits to the US are an estimated $77bn [49bn [pounds sterling]] per year."

As with TTIP, it seems that the TPP is being given the hard sell, not least to the American public. The White House's statement of its objectives from the TPP negotiations declared: "The Obama administration is pursuing TPP to unlock opportunities for American manufacturers, workers, service providers, farmers and ranchers--to support job creation and wage growth."

The USTR's website also states that the government is committed to a "trade policy that provides new opportunities for workers and supports economic growth by opening markets, enforcing our agreements and levelling the playing field for our workers".

Note that it mentions "markets" once, but "workers" twice. Subheadings further down include "Standing up for workers" and "Protecting the...

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