Alex on TTIP: My minimum conditions for support – I’ll join any campaign to put pressure on these

On the doorstep, in my Inbox, on the street – people are increasingly asking me about TTIP – and my views on it.

That’s not surprising. In spite of the secrecy surrounding it – indeed in part because of that – people are rightly concerned about the implications of this EU/US Trade Agreement [TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] currently under negotiation. Like everyone else, I’m still partly in the dark – and can’t prejudge what I have not yet seen. But I am clear on what I could NOT accept – and that is any threat to our control over corporations, to workers’ rights, to consumer protections, to our capacity to renationalise our public services. I stand with the Labour Party’s view that it could not be accepted if it includes provision of public services and does not include an NHS exception. It cannot be accepted if Investor State Dispute Settlement is in the final text.

Free trade agreements can be good for working people. Tariffs produce barriers which can mean higher prices for people. Free trade can overcome these and reduce prices of goods. The corn laws in the 1800s were trade barriers. They were designed to make money for Tory aristocrat landowners, and when harvests were bad meant ordinary people could starve as imports were too expensive. However, conditions can be applied to agreements which put at risk our institutions, the rights of workers and disadvantage countries not involved in the agreement. I am writing this to set out what sort of agreement TTIP is, and therefore whether I support it or not.

The first issue with TTIP is its secrecy. It is being negotiated behind closed doors and there has been only a limited release of information officially, plus leaks to newspapers mainly in Germany. There is a website and after each round of negotiations a report is published. The latest one is Sadly the details of the text are absent and what we are given is merely reportage on the process.

We do, however, know some things officially.

The agreement has three main elements:

-       Market access: removing customs duties on goods and restrictions on services, gaining better access to public markets, and making it easier to invest

-       Improved regulatory coherence and cooperation by dismantling unnecessary regulatory barriers such as bureaucratic duplication of effort

-        Improved co-operation when it comes to setting international standards

Information released also shows that negotiations have discussed

-       Lowering Customs Duties

-       Aligning standards and regulations

The first is worth supporting, as it means goods are cheaper for people without diluting the pay of workers. The second can mean a watering down of safety, health, workers rights etc. However the EU have stated ‘The EU is only discussing standards and regulations with the US on one strict condition: that we neither give up nor dilute the levels of protection we have in Europe. That goes for health and the environment as well as for consumer protection.’

However judging from the leaked documents there are a number of extremely concerning proposals:

-       The ability for corporations to have mechanisms to sue governments such as ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) which are dangerous for democracy and accountability as they ultimately bypass existing state judicial systems

-       The ability to override national regulations, for instance regarding fracking, GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms], finance and tightening laws on copyright. This would undermine any future Government’s ability to set policy. It would potentially take away people’s human rights.

-       The proposal to make all public institutions subject to the market including the NHS and make nationalisation almost impossible undermining our ability to make the railways public or intervene with a public energy company.

So where do I – and the Labour Party – stand?

The negotiations started in June last year, and negotiators are aiming to conclude the deal by the end of 2015, but the negotiations are progressing slowly. The European Parliament has the right to veto the final text so a democratic barrier exists – and Labour MEPs are already planning to exercise this. I have already corresponded with our Labour MEPs on TTIP. Richard Corbett has produced a useful blog.

On the NHS we have been told there is a national opt-out and we have also been told that the Coalition Government will not exercise it. But both Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham have pledged to exercise the opt-out if the agreement is signed.

The Labour Party at its Policy Forum in July agreed it could not support TTIP if it includes ISDS, includes provision of public services and does not include an NHS exception.

My personal view is TTIP cannot be supported:

-       If Corporations can bypass national laws and the Investor State Dispute Settlement is in the final text

-       If TTIP puts up barriers to renationalise national services such as rail, energy, water or mail which provide vital universal services

-       If TTIP prevented Government from awarding contracts on the basis of social value or community benefit and if it would be forced to give multi-nationals public contracts on the basis of cost

-       If TTIP affects the ability for Government to increase the minimum wage or increase parental leave rights or other legally defined conditions for workers

-       If consumer protection is levelled down rather than up

As I stated at the outset, I don’t want to prejudge something before I have seen it. But I can be clear about what I refuse to accept, and these 5 points are my conditions for support. I will join any campaign that puts pressure on one or more of these points. So I have signed the 38 degrees petition on TTIP.


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