14 June 2015
07 June 2015
There is a very important plenary vote in the European Parliament on TTIP this Wednesday:
Parliament’s recommendations to the European Commission for its Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks with the USA will be debated by MEPs on Wednesday morning and voted at noon. Investor protection (ISDS) is set to top the debate, with opinions split on whether Parliament should ask that the use of private arbitration to resolve disputes between investors and public authorities be excluded from the deal.
Parliament will vote on a resolution, drafted by its International Trade Committee with contributions from 13 other committees, which assesses the progress made after one and a half years and sets out Parliament’s views on what needs to be achieved and safeguarded in the Commission’s talks with the USA in areas such as agriculture, public procurement, data protection, energy, and labour rights.
to ensure that foreign investors are treated in a non-discriminatory fashion and have a fair opportunity to seek and achieve redress of grievances, while benefiting from no greater rights thandomestic investors; to oppose the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in TTIP, as other options to enforce investment protection are available, such as domestic remedies;
Posted by glyn moody at 6:37 p.m.
08 May 2015
Opponents fear it could undermine many of Europe's hard-won laws protecting online privacy, health, safety and the environment, even democracy itself. For example, it could effectively place US investors in the EU above the law by allowing companies to claim compensation from an EU country when it brings in a regulation that allegedly harms their investments—and for EU companies to attack US laws in the same way.
Those far-reaching effects flow from the fact that TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement, which generally seeks to lower tariffs between nations so as to increase trade between them. The tariffs between the US and EU are already very low—under 3%—so there is little scope to boost transatlantic trade significantly by removing the remaining tariffs completely.
Instead, TTIP aims to go beyond tariffs, and to remove what it calls "non-tariff barriers." These refer to the different ways of doing things which make it hard for a company to sell exactly the same product on both sides of the Atlantic. Typically, different national regulations require different kinds of tests and product information, which leads to a duplication of effort that adds costs and delays to making products available in the other market.
TTIP's stated aim to smooth away those NTBs is good news for the companies, but not so much for pesky humans. What are classed as "barriers" include things like regulations that protect the environment or the online privacy of Europeans. The threat to diminish or remove them in the name of transatlantic "harmonisation", has turned the traditionally rather dull area of trade agreements into the most important focus for civil action in years, galvanizing a broad spectrum of groups on both sides of the Atlantic that see TTIP not as a potential boon, but a bane.
Read the rest of this 6,376-word article on Ars Technica UK.
24 January 2015
WriteToThem will provide you with a random person to contact, and an easy way to do so - you just have to provide the message. Here's what I've sent to a few people there:
I hope you will forgive me for contacting you out of the blue like this, but I feel that the circumstances surrounding the attempt to introduce what amounts to an entire additional bill into the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill without scrutiny is a gross abuse of Parliamentary procedure - indeed an assault on democracy.
As the Open Rights Group notes:
"The draft Communications Data Bill, which is inserted by the amendment in nearly identitical form, was scrutinised by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons for a year.The Committee agreed unanimously that the draft was inappropriate. None of their concerns are addressed in the clauses presented.The report is extremely critical of the Home Office, labelling their figures “fanciful and misleading.” It adds that they “expect the overall cost to the taxpayer over the next decade to exceed £1.8 billion [the Home Office's estimated cost] by a considerable margin"The Committee said that “the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data.”Their concerns over wholesale collection and analysis of data were substantial and from any perspective would need considerable changes to be made to the draft bill, now presented as amendment to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill."
Given those issues, as well as the more fundamental one of the entire legislative process being abused in this way, I would like to urge you to attend the debate on Monday and to express your concerns about this attempt to insert legislation into an existing Bill at the last minute.
Thank you for your help in this important matter.
Posted by glyn moody at 4:38 p.m.
19 January 2015
Posted by glyn moody at 3:47 p.m.
14 January 2015
"That this House resolves that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament."
As you know, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the EU and the US is highly contentious. One of its biggest problems is the lack of scrutiny. In order to inject a little more democracy into the process - and to bolster your own key role as representative of the public here - I would like to urge you to support the motion being put forward by Geraint Davies that calls for more scrutiny for TTIP.
Posted by glyn moody at 10:09 a.m.
07 December 2014
I have therefore written to my local MP, and I'd like to urge you to do the same, asking them to press for the relevant legislation to be laid before Parliament as soon as possible. You can do that very easily using the excellent WriteToThem service. Here's what I've sent:
I am writing to you about the introduction of plain cigarette packaging regulations: I was disturbed to read the relevant legislation might not be introduced before the General Election.
As a journalist who writes about international trade among other things, I have been following closely plans to introduce plain packs around the world. In particular, I have written about legal action by Philip Morris against both Uruguay and Australia as a result of health measures they have taken to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by smoking (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121226/09522221488/treaty-shopping-how-companies-tilt-legal-playing-field-investor-state-arbitration.shtml)
As you know, what is particularly interesting about these cases is that they use the highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process in order to claim an indirect expropriation of property. Since the company is doing this through subsidiaries - one in Switzerland, the other in Hong Kong - it is not even clear whether those cases can proceed. However, it is evident that one of the main reasons Philip Morris is taking this route is to intimidate other countries thinking about bringing in plain packs measures. Indeed, New Zealand has put its own plans on hold pending the result of the Australian case, which shows that strategy is having its effect.
I would therefore like to urge the UK government to place the regulations governing plain packets before Parliament as soon as possible. This is vitally important not just for the health of British people, but for millions of people around the world.
If the UK government holds off on its plans to introduce plain packaging, this will be taken as a sign that such a move is likely to be contested by the tobacco companies. Smaller nations that are unwilling to take the risk of losing what can be punitively expensive cases - Philip Morris is demanding $2 billion "compensation" from Uruguay, a huge chunk of its entire health budget - will be discouraged from joining the global movement to making cigarette packets less attractive to young people.
If, on the other hand, the Government is bold and moves forward with the UK legislation, this will send a very strong signal to nations around the world that it is both morally the right thing to do and feasible in practical terms. More governments will follow the UK's lead, and it will be impossible for tobacco manufacturers to use crude legal threats to intimidate them as they find safety in numbers.
In other words, the decision on this issue could literally change the course of history in this area. This is not just about helping many thousands of people in the UK to avoid taking up smoking, with its concomitant costs, both in terms of health and money, but about saving millions of lives around the world. I therefore urge the UK government to bring this legislation before Parliament as soon as possible: every day's delay means more unnecessary suffering and deaths.
Thank you for your help in this important matter.
Posted by glyn moody at 3:46 p.m.
31 October 2014
My name is Glyn Moody, and I am a journalist who has written over 40 columns on TTIP (available at http://www.computerworlduk.com/blogs/open-enterprise/ttip-updates--the-glyn-moody-blogs-3569438/.) My comments are based on following trade negotiations closely for many years, including those for TPP, TISA and ACTA. Please find below my responses to the consultation's questions.1. Please give us your views on what concrete measures the Commission could take to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. Where, specifically, do you see room for improvement?
There is one one very simple measure that would make the TTIP negotiations highly transparent without limiting the European Commission's ability to keep its negotiating strategy secret - something it claims is necessary.This would be to make all EU documents and proposals public as soon as they are tabled.There can be no objection that this will reveal the Commission's strategy to the US side, since the latter can, by definition, see all documents once they are on the table. Releasing them to the public would therefore reveal nothing that the US negotiators did not already know. The US cannot object, since it only concerns the EU proposals, and reveals nothing of the US position (not that this should be secret.) In short, no one could possibly object, unless, of course, the real purpose of negotiations being held behind closed doors is precisely to keep the public ignorant of what is nominally being carried out in their name.
2. Please provide examples of best practice that you have encountered in this area.Negotiations at WIPO go far beyond simply making tabled documents available, as this article explains in detail (http://infojustice.org/archives/30027). Here are the main points:"The elements of WIPO’s transparency processes are varied. they start with ongoing releases of draft negotiating documents dating back to the beginning of the process.""WIPO webcasted negotiations, and even established listening rooms where stakeholders could hear (but not be physically present in) break rooms where negotiators were working on specific issues. ""WIPO set up a system of open and transparent structured stakeholder input, including published reports and summaries of stakeholder working groups composed of commercial and non-commercial interests alike.""Transparency in WIPO continued through the final days of intense, often all night, negotiations in the final diplomatic conference. When negotiators reached a new breakthrough on the language concerning the controversial “3-step test” limiting uses of limitations and exceptions in national laws, that news was released to the public (enabling public news stories on it), along with the draft text of the agreement."This clearly shows how complete transparency is possible, and that negotiations can not only proceed under these conditions, but reach successful conclusions.
3. Please explain how, in your view, greater transparency might affect the outcome of the negotiations.
Real transparency - for example, by publishing all tabled documents - would have a profoundly important impact, since it would offer hope that any final agreement would enjoy public support. Without transparency, TTIP will simply be a secret deal among insiders, imposed from above, rather than any legitimate instrument of democracy.
29 July 2014
Let me be clear on this very important point: we are not lowering standards in TTIP. Our standards on consumer protection, on the environment, on data protection and on food are not up for negotiation. There is no “give and take” on standards in TTIP.
Simple logic tells us that this can't possibly be true. If two completely different regulatory systems are to be brought together - the avowed aim of TTIP - there are only three possibilities. Either the side with the higher standards levels down; the side with the lower standards levels up; or there is mutual recognition of each other's standards. The US has clearly stated that it is not prepared to level up - it won't accept EU bans on chlorine-washed chickens, hormone beef or GMOs.
Mutual recognition, although apparently different, is in fact identical to levelling down: if both regulations are acceptable, manufacturers working to the higher set will be at a disadvantage commercially. They will therefore either relocate their factories to the country with the lower standards, which are cheaper to implement, or lobby for the higher standards to be levelled down, threatening either to leave the country, or shut down. Politicians always give in to this kind of blackmail, so EU standards would inevitably be lowered to those of the US as a result of mutual recognition.
But it has become increasingly clear that there is another way for the European Commission to circumvent its own promises that TTIP will not lower standards. The trick here is that the European Commission will lower standards *before* TTIP; so technically speaking it is not TTIP that brings about that dilution - it occurred "independently". Thus the Commission will be able to put its hand on its heart and swear blind that it kept its word not to sell out EU standards in TTIP, while at the same time changing the regulatory context in such a way that the US will be able to export things that are currently banned by strict EU legislations.
We're seeing more and more examples of this. Here, for example, is how new GMO regulations will allow US companies to bring in GM food:
Genetically modified crops could be grown in the UK from next year after the EU ministers relaxed laws on the controversial farming method.
Maize that has been engineered to resist weedkiller is the first to be approved but all commercial GM crops will not be given the green light for another 10 years.
Owen Patterson, the Environment Secretary, has long supported the introduction of GM crops in the UK and voted in favour of the changes on Thursday.
He said: “This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops, which is currently letting down our farmers and stopping scientific development.
Here's how the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, designed to discourage the use of highly-polluting carbon fuels, is being drastically weakened [.pdf]:
Since its inception in 2009, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), a European Union regulation aimed at reducing the climate impact of transport fuels, has been attacked by powerful lobby interests that do not want the EU to take action to curtail the use of particularly greenhouse gas intensive fossil fuels.
these attempts to weaken this landmark climate policy seem to have been successful. If recent media reports are correct, the European Commission has decided to significantly weaken the FQD and align its regulatory standards with the wishes of the oil industry, the US trade negotiators [for TTIP] and the Canadian government. Compared to a previous proposal from 2011, it would be considerably less effective in cleaning up Europe’s transport fuels and preventing the most climate polluting fuels, including tar sands, from entering Europe.
Most recently, we have learned that the European Commission is preparing to allow endocrine disruptors in pesticides - another key demand from the US side in TTIP. Unfortunately, the source for this information, Inside US Trade, is behind a paywall, so I can't give a link, but will just quote a couple of key passages:
One of the options proposed by the commission in a June 17 "roadmap" is to shift from the current EU approach of banning the use of all endocrine disruptors in pesticides toward a model that could allow them to be used as long as certain steps are taken to mitigate the risk.
This risk assessment-based model is favored by the U.S. and EU pesticide industries and is the approach employed under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program." Such a model seeks to evaluate both whether a hazard exists and if it can be mitigated by limiting exposure, in order to allow the marketing of an otherwise dangerous product.
As you can see, this amounts to abandoning the EU's Precautionary Principle, and adopting the completely different risk-based approach of the US. Aside from the fact that this shows that the European Commission's promises that standards would not fall, that the EU would not be forced to adopt US approaches, and that public health in Europe would always be safeguarded, were worthless, this also disregards the EU's Treaty of Lisbon, which explicitly states:
Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.
Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.
“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.
26 July 2014
European Court Of Human Rights Fast-tracks Case Against GCHQ; More Organizations Launch Legal Challenges To UK Spying
Back in December, we wrote about a legal action that a group of digital rights activists had brought against GCHQ, alleging that the UK's mass online surveillance programs have breached the privacy of tens of millions of people across the UK and Europe. In an unexpected turn of events, the court involved -- the European Court of Human Rights -- has put the case in the fast lane:
The battle over online privacy, and how personal data should be treated as it moves over the Internet, is being fought between the US and EU points of view in multiple ways. There is the EU's Data Protection Regulation, currently grinding its way through the legislative process; there are the discussions about the NSA's spying program, and how it impacts Europeans; and finally, there are various court cases involving US companies and the personal data of EU citizens. One of these is in the UK, where The Telegraph reports that an important decision has been handed down:
Back in May last year, we wrote about how the European Commission's "Licences for Europe" initiative had turned into a fiasco, with public interest groups and open access supporters pulling out in protest at the way it was being conducted. The central problem was the Commission's attempt to force everything into the straitjacket of copyright licensing, refusing to allow alternative approaches to be discussed. Fortunately, its public consultation on copyright, launched back in December, and closing soon, does not make this mistake, and is broad in scope:
One of the many problems with DRM is its blanket nature. As well as locking down the work in question, it often causes all kinds of other, perfectly legal activities to be blocked as well -- something that the copyright industry seems quite untroubled by. Here's an example from Europe involving Nintendo (pdf):
Reading Techdirt, it's all-too-easy to get the impression that copyright is an utter disaster for the public -- with current laws abused by governments, companies and trolls alike, and international agreements like TPP aiming to make the situation worse. But as Andres Guadamuz points out on his Technollama blog, things aren't quite as bleak as they sometimes seem:
Even though Microsoft is no longer the dominant player or pacesetter in the computer industry -- those roles are shared by Google and Apple these days -- it still does interesting work through its Microsoft Research arm. Here's some welcome news from the latter: it's moving to open access for its researchers' publications.
In Response To Growing Protests, EU Pulls Corporate Sovereignty Chapter From TAFTA/TTIP To Allow For Public Consultation
Here on Techdirt, we've been writing about the dangers of corporate sovereignty for a while. In recent months, more and more people and organizations have pointed out that the plan to include an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the TAFTA/TTIP agreement currently being negotiated is fraught with dangers -- and also completely unnecessary given the fair and efficient legal systems that exist on both sides of the Atlantic. It seems that this chorus of disapproval has finally been noticed, in Brussels at least:
Here on Techdirt we've written a number of times about India's efforts to provide key drugs to its population at prices that they can afford, and how its approach is beginning to spread to other countries. That's a big worry for Western pharma companies, which see their business model of selling medicines at high prices threatened by newly-assertive nations. The latest to join that club is South Africa.
Now That The NSA Has Made It The Norm, Total Surveillance During The Sochi Olympic Games Is No Longer Noteworthy
In addition to being an opportunity to stretch copyright and trademark rules way beyond the law, over the years, the Olympics has also become an occasion when the feeble "because terrorism" excuse is deployed to justify all kinds of additional restrictions on personal freedoms. It will come as no surprise to learn that the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Vladimir Putin's pet project, will continue the tradition:
Monsanto is best-known for its controversial use of genetically-modified organisms, and less well-known for being involved in the story of the defoliant Agent Orange (the company's long and involved story is well told in the book and film "The World According to Monsanto", by Marie-Monique Robin.) Its shadow also looms large over the current TPP talks: the USTR's Chief Agricultural Negotiator is Islam A. Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for Monsanto. But it would seem that the company is starting to explore new fields, so to speak; as Salon reports in a fascinating and important post, Monsanto is going digital:
Techdirt has already noted how the NSA's massive spying programs around the world are costing US companies money through lost business -- and are likely to cost them even more in the future. But it seems that the fallout is even wider, as this story from The Voice of Russia makes clear:
Revelations About Massive UK Police Corruption Shows Why We Cannot -- And Must Not -- Trust The Spies
As Mike reported recently, the NSA has presented no credible evidence that its bulk metadata collection is stopping terrorist attacks, or keeping people safe. Instead, the argument in support of the secret activities of the NSA and its friends abroad has become essentially: "Trust us, we really have your best interests at heart." But that raises the question: Can we really do that? New revelations from The Independent newspaper about massive and thorough-going corruption of the UK police and judiciary a decade ago show that we can't:
Techdirt has already examined the issue of corporate sovereignty many times over the past year, as it has emerged as one of the most problematic areas of both TPP and TAFTA/TTIP. A fine article by Simon Lester of the Cato Institute examines a hidden assumption in these negotiations: that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is needed at all.
Like many other countries, India has been steadily extending its national surveillance capabilities. We wrote about its main Central Monitoring System (CMS) back in May last year, with more details in July. In news that shocked no one, we discovered in September that illegal surveillance is already taking place. And now, via The Economic Times, we learn that India has built another, completely independent system for spying on its citizens:
Does The Fast Track Authority Bill Guarantee That Corporate Sovereignty Will Be One-Sided And Unfair?
Yesterday, Mike reported on the introduction of the "fast track authority" bill in the Senate, and pointed out some of its most troubling aspects. But it's a long document -- over 100 pages -- and hidden away within it are some other areas that raise important questions. Take, for example, Section 8, which concerns sovereignty: