Structuring monopoly power through the back door of free trade negotiations: TTIP and international standardisation

Benjamin Bürbaumer


This paper aims at discussing the contradictory unity between monopoly and competition, which is currently illustrated by the challenges of free-trade negotiations. As such, I put forward the hypothesis that the crucial issue of the TTIP negotiations – and more generally of actual trade negotiations between industrialised countries – isn't primarily the liberalisation of trade through the elimination of tariffs but the ability to set the rules (standards) of global competition under the growing concern for maximising shareholder value. In order to underscore this point, I'll draw on data regarding future trade perspectives expected by industrialised countries and to a lesser extent by international organisations, and relate them to the crisis of capitalism since 2008, and the resulting slowdown of international trade. In this context, the analysis of global value chains helps us to understand why the oligopolistic power of lead firms is likely to be fostered through supposedly free-trade regulations and standards. As economic activity is ultimately grounded in space (Harvey, 2014: 79) this tendency has a concrete impact on the spatial limits of capital. Consequently, my papers puts emphasis on how, despite the annihilation of space by time, privileged positions on a local scale and hierarchical arrangements are preserved in favour of certain firms. In Capital Volume III Marx states that „so long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class. But as soon as it no longer is a question of sharing profits, [...] everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another.“ Thus, in a situation of slowing international trade, this paper outlines on the one hand the relation between the (industrialised) state and the economy and gives on the other hand some indications regarding the tensions of inter-capitalist competition. Based on these contradictions, I'll develop some possible strategic axes for the struggle against free-trade treaties.

Limits to capital - International trade - TTIP - Economy  
This article is part of Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch (A booklaunch on 'Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch')