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Comhlámh and TTIP

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The following is the text of the speech given by Mark Cumming, head of Comhlámh at the recent anti-TTIP mobilisation in Dublin.







Comhlámh is the association of Volunteers and Development workers, a community of people who have lived and worked in the Global South

Comhlámh  has over the years worked on questions of fairness and justice when it comes to trade rights – we campaigned against the dumping of intervention beef in west Africa, the dumping of European tomatoes in south Africa and unfair trade deals imposed

Trade isn’t a bad thing – the issue is the rules governing the trade – who gets to decide on the trade rules is critical

  • Rich, powerful and militarily strong countries always favour the most freedom or lack of restrictions on trade
  • The last two hundred years of the industrial revolution have been built initially on the back of the slave trade – over the years European gun ships sailing up and down the coasts of Africa sought to impose the will of the colonial powers ensuring free access to raw materials for European industry and a market for European produce
  • Who decides the rules governing trade is critical – to this day countries in the global south are being pressured to force open their markets to USA and EU produce.
  • In the case of food stuffs this has been disastrous for many countries with countries like the Gambia in West Africa or Haiti in the Carribean which once could feed their populations with rice grown at home now cannot compete with subsidised rice coming subsidised American farmers. Unfair trade deal undermine development, undermine the democratic process in countries and ultimately cause poverty and hunger
  • When it comes to trade rules – it’s a bit like irish finance – one law for the rich and one law for the poor

Over the last 15 years at the World Trade Organisation there have been attempts to negotiate a new global trade deal that was called the ‘Doha Development round’.  The idea was that a Development focused deal would favour countries in the global south – in particular it was meant to see a reduction in subsidies for US and EU farmers and greater power to countries in the global south to protect their own farmers and ultimately these countries ability to feed themselves.

  • This round of negotiations has been running for 15 years – agreement can’t be found because the global south doesn’t believe they are fair. Along come deals such as TTIP and CETA – these are ways for the EU and USA and Canada to steal a march on the WTO and put in place deals that will set the global standards and thus bypass the global democratic process at the WTO
  • Even Conservative think tanks in Europe see TTIP and CETA deals harming countries in the global south.


I have a gift for all of you here today from the global south.  There is one for everyone in the crowd.  It’s a thing called ISDS.

  • I can assure you that this has been greatly road tested and is a very effective and efficient product.
  • It has been tried and tested on the people of Egypt and ensured they didn’t get the minimum wage
  • It has been tried on the people of Argentina where the government imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills and was sued by international utility companies – Argentina was forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation
  • It has been tried on the people of El Salvador where the government didn’t want to give a mining licence as the mining would threaten water supplies so the mining company is seeking 315 million in compensation
  • It has been tried on the people of India where the government wanted to collect over a billion in taxes from Vodafone but has been prevented from doing so by ISDS
  • Even our own home grown irish companies have successfully used ISDS to avoid paying taxes in countries such as Uganda.
  • In all these cases – ISDS was not found wanting – it did exactly what it said on the tin. ISDS is a product put in place at the end of the colonial period, put in place to ensure that colonial economic interests would be protected after Europe withdrew from its colonies and ISDS has been successfully road tested.
  • And now – it seems that what is good for the global south is good for us too here in Ireland.

There is a bitter irony in the Uganda case – Ireland provides much needed and valuable support to Uganda through the work of Irish Aid and the various NGOs – but countries such as Uganda are sovereign, they need to be allowed to decide their own policies, levy taxes due to them and decide how to develop their own societies

Roger Casement saw the child labour and bonded labour in Brazil and the abject slavery in King Leopold of Belgium’s Congo where 6 million were killed to extract vast rubber for European industry.  This awareness of what is going on in the world contributed to his changed understanding of his own native country.

  • Many of the things we are experiencing today as part of the drive to privatise public services, remove social supports, increasing inequality – these have been road tested in the global south. It’s important that anyone working on justice issues in Ireland looks at the experiences in the global south to see what is threatened to happen here.
  • It’s important that we defeat TTIP/CETA and the ISDS – not only for our sakes and our children but also for the countries in the global south




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