UN experts wary of global trade agreement’s impact on human rights
A number of free trade and investment agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are currently being negotiated that are worrying UN experts. Their mandate is to uphold human rights, but seem to be toothless under the trade related onslaughts.
The UN experts are concerned about the secret nature of the negotiations which can have potential adverse impact of these agreements on human rights. In a joint statment released by them under the aegis of the Geneva based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that
While trade and investment agreements can create new economic opportunities, we draw attention to the potential detrimental impact these treaties and agreements may have on the enjoyment of human rights as enshrined in legally binding instruments, whether civil, cultural, economic, political or social. Our concerns relate to the rights to life, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, science and culture, improved labour standards, an independent judiciary, a clean environment and the right not to be subjected to forced resettlement.
They further added that under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, countries must ensure that trade and investment agreements do not constrain their ability to meet their human rights obligations. Observers are concerned that these treaties and agreements are likely to have a number of retrogressive effects on the protection and promotion of human rights, including by lowering the threshold of health protection, food safety, and labour standards, by catering to the business interests of pharmaceutical monopolies and extending intellectual property protection.
There is a legitimate concern that both bilateral and multilateral investment treaties might aggravate the problem of extreme poverty, jeopardize fair and efficient foreign debt renegotiation, and affect the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other persons leaving in vulnerable situations. Globalization and investment treaties and free trade agreements can have positive but also negative impacts on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, which entails practical international solidarity can get affected, cautioned the UN rights experts.
One of the concers is the Investor-state-dispute settlement (ISDS) chapters that are increasingly problematic given the experience of decades related arbitrations conducted before ISDS tribunals. The experience demonstrates that the regulatory function of many states and their ability to legislate in the public interest have been put at risk.
We believe the problem has been aggravated by the “chilling effect” that intrusive ISDS awards have had, when States have been penalized for adopting regulations, for example to protect the environment, food security, access to generic and essential medicines, and reduction of smoking, as required under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or raising the minimum wage.
ISDS chapters are anomalous in that they provide protection for investors but not for countries and people. They allow investors to sue states but not vice-versa. They demanded greater transparency to remedy incoherence between current modes of investment with human rights considerations. They requested the states revisit the treaties under negotiation and ensure that they foster and do not hinder human rights. They also stated that all current negotiations of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements should be conducted transparently with consultation and participation of all relevant stakeholders including labour unions, consumer unions, environmental protection groups and health professionals, which is currenlty missing.
There are hardly any drafts of these negotiaitons available raising questions about the secretive nature of the negotiations.
Further details and the list of experts can be found here.