Red lines on TTIP

I spoke at the Save the NHS from TTIP rally in Hull on Saturday. It was a well attended event, despite the weather.

It’s not that I oppose trade agreements between Europe and America. As a Yorkshire & Humber MEP, I’m well aware of how our small and large manufacturers could benefit from a reduction in American tariffs. But some of the mooted elements of this agreement are unacceptable.

Of course, it’s not yet a done deal. We may be two or more years away from the conclusion of the negotiations. And we’re told that some of our worst fears will not materialise. But it’s as well to flag up our concerns and outright opposition to certain proposals already. After all, if we wait until the end, we’ll be told it’s too late to change the contents of the agreement and we should have spoken earlier. At that point, huge pressure will be put on MEPs not to jeopardise a strategic agreement approved by all the governments of EU countries.

By speaking out now, we can warn the negotiators (the US government, and the European Commission mandated by European governments) that, if they include certain elements, they will risk losing the whole agreement.

There can be no TTIP without European Parliamentary approval. MEPs have shown before that they are prepared to reject agreements — even with the USA — when their contents cause major concerns, as we saw when Parliament rejected the SWIFT agreement on bank data transfers and the ACTA agreement on intellectual property rights.

Within the European Parliament, Labour MEPs, our colleagues in the Socialist Group, and many others have made it clear that we will oppose TTIP if it threatens public services in general and the health service in particular by allowing American companies to tender against public provision — or if it creates a ratchet effect whereby privatised health provision cannot be brought back under public control.

The current UK government maintains that there is no such threat to the NHS. But nobody trusts them. After all, they came to power promising “no top-down reform of the NHS” before embarking on an immense, costly and damaging “reform”, privatising many aspects of it. And they have not explicitly requested that the health sector be added to the list of areas exempt from the TTIP negotiations.

We also have concerns about what is known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This would grant an investor, typically a large multinational company, the right to use dispute settlement proceedings against governments, separate from the normal judicial system of that country, if their investments are adversely affected by changes in public policy.

We’re told that these are nothing new and have been included in many past trade agreements across the world. Indeed they have — and it’s precisely that experience that has given cause for concern! Tobacco companies sued the Australian government for loss of profits when it brought in plain package cigarette packaging. Nuclear companies have sued Germany for its decision to phase out nuclear energy. There are several other disquieting examples.

Cameron said on Sunday that he wants to “put rocket boosters” under these talks. Maybe. He has obvious political motives to want to hurry things along. But unless the negotiators take heed of our concerns, there will be no TTIP.

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