The governments of France and Germany reacted to the revelations of the US spying on their embassies and the offices of the European Union with threats to pull out of the negotiations for the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement. For people who haven't been following the present involvement of the US government in international trade negotiations, this might seem like they just grabbed something at hand to use as a threat in retaliation for the outrage of their citizens. However, the reality is that many of their citizens are already alarmed by what they know about TATA and the potential it hands to trans-national corporations over their lives. The awareness of the abuses that are being made of the internet forms a direct connection to that.
Consumer watchdogs, Internet activists and European farmers are gearing up to fight the planned trade agreement between Europe and the United States. Many in Europe are worried that politicians will make backroom deals at the expense of consumers.Two of the main issues of controversy are the regulation of GM food supplies and data protection and privacy laws and regulations.
TATA has a near twin in TPPA the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which is a similar trade agreement that is being negotiated among the US and 11 other Pacific rim nations. When most of us hear the term international trade we think in terms of the buy and selling of concrete goods like food and appliances. That is mostly what the World Trade Organization has dealt with up until now. Attempts to extend that regime into the regulation of international services have essentially become deadlocked. The US has turned to regional compacts as a means of bypassing that body and pursuing its agenda.
Both TATA and TPPA have come under heavy criticism for the tight secrecy surrounding the negotiations. In the case of TPPA the Obama administration has tried to claim that information about them is classified. What information that has been leaked indicates that both agreements are attempting a set of uniform regulations on a number of areas of economic relationship that would supersede the power of national governments to regulate such matters and thus deprive their citizenry of the ability to participate in the political process. In addition to food regulation and data privacy they deal with issues about the control of intellectual property rights.
This is all very much part of the long term trend of the neoliberal economic and political regime. The parties that stand to benefit from such arrangements are not the general population of any of the nation states, but the large trans-national corporations that seek to dominate and control international trade. Some of them such as Google and Facebook are attempting to establish hegemony over personal data on the internet. Drug companies want unexpiring patents on everything that could be potentially be turned into a drug. All of them would like to conduct their business in some sort of political vacuum where that nasty word taxes never rears its ugly head.
The internet becomes an ever more powerful and pervasive tool as time goes by. It penetrates more and more deeply into out daily lives. Governments and corporations with the power to control it could come quite close to controlling the world.
The modern notion of the sovereign nation state originated with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Sovereignty has always been relative to how much money and how many guns you have. The notion of the democratic nation state involved ultimate political accountability to the will of the people. That has also been pretty relative.
Since WWII we have seen an increasing tendency toward various forms of globalization that make the idea of a nation state with a distinct national identity, culture and economic interests ever more fuzzy. The European Union was conceived as an effort to bind the nations of Europe more closely together to promote peace and prosperity on a continent that historically has known so much war. That has involved a never ending debate over surrendering national sovereignty to a supranational institution. Much of its development has been accomplished by negotiations between governments rather than voters at the ballot box.
Within this context there is the often shadowy world of the trans-national corporations. There was a time when most business enterprises had a clear national identity, even if they engaged in some amount of international trade. People are still inclined to think of them in terms of the location of their corporate headquarters. That becomes more and more inaccurate. We recently got a revealing look at Apple Inc. and its global affairs. It's headquarters may be in Cupertino, CA, but it finds the climate in the Republic of Ireland salubrious for its tax health. It's business is in fact spread over most of the world. This is not an unusual situation. Trans-national corporations increasingly form complex partnerships with each other in what is described as a matrix organizational structure.
The present spying scandals offer much drama and entertainment. Many people are trying to fit it into the context of a cold war spy movie. However, it is much more instructive to view it as a glimpse of the future rather than of the past.