US and EU unions criticise transatlantic trade deal

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US and EU unions criticise transatlantic trade deal
By Shawn Donnan in Brussels

The largest trade unions in the US and EU are calling for protections for online privacy and the exclusion of a controversial arbitration mechanism as part of a long series of demands to secure their backing for a transatlantic trade pact.

The conditions set by the AFL-CIO, the US’s largest union, and the European Trade Union Confederation are due to be unveiled on Thursday and amount to a serious blow to efforts to sell the benefits of what would be the largest bilateral trade deal ever struck.

Since their launch last year, negotiations to create a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which are due to enter their sixth round next week, have faced increasingly vocal criticism, particularly in Europe.

Labour unions have until now largely withheld judgment with some US union officials even arguing that an agreement with the EU may be the first trade deal in decades that they could back. That, in the view of trade officials, has made unions a key constituency to win over as they fight to obtain public support.

But in their long list of demands the AFL-CIO and the ETUC make any backing for the deal conditional on a significant departure from what is now being negotiated.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said the unions were determined that any transatlantic trade deal be good for workers and protect key things such as consumer privacy.

“Just as the transatlantic business community has come together to advocate for its vision of the TTIP, so must the transatlantic labour community,” he said in an emailed statement to the Financial Times. “If globalisation is going to fulfill its potential beyond shoring up the power of Wall Street and global finance, it must start with the TTIP.”

Any agreement, the unions argue, should enshrine the right to online privacy, an issue that has become increasingly fraught in Europe ever since last year’s revelations that US intelligence were snooping on European citizens online. They also raise the prospect of a ban on free data flows across borders “if national privacy laws cannot be enforced for data located outside national borders”.

The unions also say they want to see plans dropped for an investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, mechanism, which would allow foreign investors to bring their disagreements with governments before independent panels.

“The TTIP should be negotiated in the public interest rather than the interests of private investors,” they write.

In their “declaration of joint principles” the two unions also demand greater transparency for negotiations and a guarantee that any deal will not erode labour standards in either the EU or the US.