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Irish Politics - US Politics

Would a Biden presidency be good for Ireland?

There is general agreement in Europe that an end to the presidency of Donald Trump cannot come soon enough for a whole series of reasons including the re-establishment of multi-lateralism and an end to the chaotic and aggressive aspects of his international economic policies. After all he seems to loath the EU. Few now write about his earlier open and enthusiastic support for European politicians who wanted their countries to leave the union. It is easy to imagine that Joe Biden would re-establish a partnership relationship with the EU.

But that general preference for a Biden presidency raises a different question for Irish people. Would a Biden presidency be better for Ireland in particular? Would his White House be more interested in Ireland in a benign way than Trump's appears to be?

There is the question of corporate taxation. Trump wants American businesses to repatriate their economic activities and their profits to the US. His administration has queried the sense of having huge chunks of US pharmaceutical commerce carried on in Ireland. Strangely, he threw a spanner in the works in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks which had been under negotiation between the Obama administration and the EU by starting a trade and tariff war with the EU. But later he quietly  recommenced negotiations in 2018 only for the EU Commission to state that the talks had become obsolete and irrelevant in 2019.

That may be no bad thing in the long run. The TTIP process was flawed from the very start. It was largely been negotiated in the interests of huge multi-national corporations rather than the interests of citizens. It wasn't only problematic at the level of chlorinated chickens; it started on the basis of a system of Inter-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which would have allowed large corporations to sue sovereign states for alleged breaches of the agreement's provisions by binding decisions of an arbitration tribunal.

That meant that Ireland as a state could, say, be sued for damages by large multi-nationals for giving any preferences to Irish industry. Although the idea of ISDS arbitration was later abridged to a proposed investment court system, the principle of allowing sovereign states to be sued by corporations for their executive and legislative actions in an international tribunal represented a full-frontal assault on the democratic sovereignty of countries such as Ireland. It might well have required an Irish referendum. And It might well have been rejected.

The irony of the Trump administration's current attempts to pillage TikTok while seeking rights for American companies to sue EU member states for discriminatory practices and laws is enormous.

By the way, the TTIP process was itself secretive and undemocratic. As a member of the Oireachtas, I, like all the other members, was offered the opportunity of viewing some of the TTIP proposals but only on terms that I viewed them in a "secure reading room" and copied nothing. I refused to view them under such conditions. And the proposals were later leaked to the world at large by Greenpeace.

But the question is whether TTIP or anything like it might be revived by a Biden administration. Or does TTIP represent the high point of international capitalism left behind by a receding tide of international political tolerance or support.

Will Biden be content to allow corporate taxation matters to undergo a gradual process of reform along the lines being pursued by the OECD? Or will Ireland's tax regime come under further US scrutiny and pressure?

These issues are of great significance to Ireland. Big states always want to avoid tax competition with little states - whether within the EU or across the globe. The EU, as a free trade area, has natural centripetal forces at work from which states at the periphery such as Ireland can only defend themselves by tools such as tax policies.

If the Democrats capture the White House and the Senate in November, the question will be whether their left wing will demand increased social expenditure paid for by increased corporate taxation. And if so, what are the fiscal implications for us?

Added to all of these issues is the future of US-UK relations if Boris loses his pal in the White House. Would a Biden administration be minded to boost the UK at the expense of the EU, as Trump has hinted he would like to do. Or has the corona virus put paid to the right-wing Tory dream of a post-Brexit boom based on hugely favourable free trade agreements with the rest of the world? Will December 31st bring us a very soft Tory Brexit agreement for fear of crashing the lockdown economy?

So while I fervently hope to see the back of Donald Trump's administration, there are many seeming imponderables for our Government to work on in the coming months.


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