TTIP: the key to freer trade, or corporate greed?

Cheap American olive oil could, in a few years’ time, be sitting on supermarket shelves next to the Tuscan single estate varieties loved by British foodies. At present a prohibitive tariff on US imports effectively prices them out of contention.


But a groundbreaking trade deal could lower the $1,680-a-tonne tariff on US olive oil to match the $34 a tonne the US charges on imports from the EU. Or the tariffs could disappear altogether. Either way, Greek, Spanish and Italian olive farmers must fear the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a deal that aims to create a level playing field between them and massive US agri-businesses.


Trade deals were once seen as a panacea for global poverty. In the 1990s, the World Trade Organisation was formed to harmonise cross-border regulations on everything from cars to pharmaceuticals and cut tariffs in order to promote the free flow of goods and services around the world.


There was always a fear that, far from being a winning formula for all, lower tariffs would favour the rich and powerful and crucify small producers, who would struggle to compete in an unprotected environment.


The effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), signed by the US, Mexico and Canada in 1993, appeared to justify that fear: it became in later years a cause celebre for anti-poverty campaigners, angered by the plight of Mexican workers. Not only were they subjected to low wages and poor working conditions by newly relocated US corporations – and, as consumers, to the relentless marketing power of Walmart, Coca Cola and the rest – but the major fringe benefit of cutting corruption remained illusory.


This year the US hopes to sign what many believe will be Nafta’s direct successor – TTIP. Should it get the green light from Congress and the EU commission, the agreement will be a bilateral treaty between Europe and the US, and, just like Nafta before it, outside the ambit of a gridlocked WTO.


Read More: TTIP: the key to freer trade, or corporate greed? | Business | The Guardian