For the past couple of years, the political sphere has been plagued with propaganda and unfounded claims, some easier to dispute than others. Take Brexit as an example, where a shameless advert on a bus was enough to shape the public opinion around the benefits of leaving the European Union. Even better, take Trump as an example, who has been leading a war on investigative journalism - on the profession we count on to maintain the transparency between the system and the people. There can’t be any meaningful engagement or public trust without full disclosure. Politicians must fight to regain it.
While Brexit and Trump are only symptoms, it’s easy to see how the public can feel disenfranchised. And we have been getting a taste of this during recent trade negotiations, such as for the TTIP and CETA deals, where proceedings have not been transparent enough. Trade policy has increasingly become a bigger part of public discourse – people want to understand it and they want to be able to scrutinise it.
I have been very vocal against opaque regulatory bodies such as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the Investment Court System (ICS) and have voted against deals that offered private justice for multinationals. We need trade negotiations to create a new global paradigm, just as much as we need climate negotiations, or peace negotiations. Civil society, trade unions, progressive politicians need to engage constructively and be properly involved, as token consultations just won’t do the trick. This is not just true during negotiations, but crucially in implementing trade agreements. We want to live in a world where people can flourish economically but also one that ensures fairness and equality, and protects the environment around them. Good trade policy can support this.
Trade networks are global now and there is no putting that particular genie back in the bottle, no matter how protectionist some governments may become. Goods travel between multiple countries, multiple times and undoing this type of supply chain risks damaging whole industries and causing economic decline. I was told this week about a specific engine part that travels across EU borders 40 times before it makes it into the final product. So the answers we seek in order to resolve some of the problems we know exist, must be global also. Companies like Google or Uber which have a huge global reach, need to be dealt with through co-operation between states and trading blocs, should problems or disputes arise.
As technology changes our lives for the better we need to ensure there are new rules that protect all parts of society such as our public services, the data economy and workers’ rights. Trade policy can help with this too.
This week I have attended several trade related discussions as part of my work on the International Trade Committee, where the general consensus was that we need to be listening to the concerns expressed through such votes as Brexit but that this could provide an opportunity to help create trade policies that contribute to the wider well-being of society as a whole.
As a block of 500 million people, Europe is arguably the most desirable trading partner in the world, even more so since the collapse of the Trans Pacific Partnership following the election of Donald Trump. So there is potential for the EU to achieve a great deal. But it all comes down to developing a sustainable strategy and using trade as leverage for progressive change. However, we need to be prepared to be tough and not afraid to use trade sanctions when deals are not respected. This should be the way forward in achieving the transparency we need to make trade policy work for our people and our planet.