March 6th 2015

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a massive trade deal involving the United States and Europe, could compromise working standards in the maritime industry, say critics of the pact. The Maritime Labor Convention and SOLAS could be undercut by a provision of TTIP and similar pending trade deals that allows businesses access to special international courts where they can challenge any barrier to their ability to maximize profits. For multinationals, the main barriers to profitability are of course labor standards and environmental protections. “This should immediately set alarm bells ringing,” says John Hilary, author of an article on TTIP that was published in the February 2015 issue of Nautilus, the publication of the British, Dutch and Swiss maritime officers’ union.

“TTIP sets the basic principle of free trade as being that there can be no terms or conditions attached to the way in which business operates in a global economy,” Hilary says. “This means that safeguards to protect workers’ rights will be further eroded. These safeguards include health and safety, collective bargaining and pay.” Targets, he says, could eventually include the Maritime Labor Convention, the International Bargaining Forum and even global safety legislation such as SOLAS, since complying with the standards they set has business costs.

Much of the problem with TTIP and similar agreements is that they are negotiated behind closed doors and only published once agreed. The maritime industry was blindsided by the Canada-Europe trade pact (CETA), which calls for an end to Canada’s cabotage law. In the United States, the Jones Act has already been targeted by TTIP negotiators, with Europe calling on the United States to scrap the legislation. In a December statement to the European Parliament, European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the EU sees “no reason” why maritime services should be excluded from TTIP negotiations.

Can Fast Track and the trade deals it is designed to promote be stopped? The answer, says the AFL-CIO, is a resounding “YES.” In 1998, Fast Track was voted down in Congress in a bipartisan vote (171 Democrats and 71 Republicans). This time around, a coalition of 100 groups is working together to stop Fast Track in the United States. To join the campaign, go to: or tweet #nofasttrack #stopfasttrack #nomorenaftas #notanothernafta.