The truth behind TTIP

15th September, 2014 5:41 pm

John Healey MP recently argued the case for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on LabourList, saying that the left should lead the fight for a fair deal. This was in part a response to the unanimous vote at TUC Congress pledging to oppose TTIP and other ‘free trade’ treaties such as CETA, the Canadian version of TTIP and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Trade unions and many others in civil society are highly sceptical of the claims John and other supporters of TTIP make for these agreements.

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A key cause of concern is that the central objective of these treaties is to raise de-regulation to a global platform; they’re not, as is commonly claimed, about tariff reduction; tariffs are in reality already at an historic low. TTIP is a platform for the corporatisation of global trade in both goods and services and with it will come the undermining of democratic government and the ability of national governments to pursue a self-determined economic path. The TTIP zone covers a region accounting for 60% of global GDP, 33% of world trade in goods and 42% of world trade in services.

The scope of the proposed agreement is determined on a negative list system, ensuring that all areas not explicitly excluded from the Agreement are by default ‘in’. This is a shift away from the previous ‘positive list’ approach in which only those areas explicitly included were within scope and all others excluded. This approach has allowed our National Health Service, transport services, utilities and other essential public services to be included. Put simply these will be ‘up for grabs’ in a deregulated free market.

The Americans also want to see the de-regulation of the EU agriculture and food sectors so they can foist hormone-treated beef, chlorinated poultry and GM cereals and salmon on unwilling Europeans. Market de-regulation between the two largest global blocs, will mean that third parties who wish to trade with the TTIP zone would be obliged to ensure that their markets are also de-regulated.

More worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation train into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to ‘free trade’. And it will all be done behind closed doors in secret. Corporates can then go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of ‘free trade’ and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.

Such is the outcry at ISDS, the European Commission has been forced into a public consultation that has seen an unprecedented 150,000 submissions. Rather than addressing growing public outrage however, the Commission has moved to initial the CETA treaty with Canada, which also contains ISDS provisions, before it has bothered to carry out any analysis of the consultation of ISDS in TTIP. It has further disgracefully said it will disregard any ‘duplicate’ submissions, thereby deleting all those that came about as a result of the efforts of 38 Degrees and War on Want.

Not only does this show contempt for the European public but it will shortly allow US corporations, through their Canadian subsidiaries, to initiate action against EU member states irrespective of ISDS being contained within TTIP. Given this sleight of hand by the Commission it is hard to see how assurances on the exemption NHS from ISDS given to John Healey are credible.

Lord Howe, Health Minister, is very clear on the UK Government’s position – to exclude health from TTIP would be, according to Howe, a mistake. We are also clear. It’s not just about future deregulation. With public services already contracted out, privatised, de-regulated or subject to private sector commissioning it’s about our absolute right as a nation to bring back public services – under public control.

We are also rightly concerned about efforts to secure the ‘mutual recognition’ of standards and regulation. In an open ‘free market’ a sledge hammer will be taken to long fought-for labour protections. Removal of so called ‘burdens’ that inhibit free competition and profits will be the driving force in a completive market.

In the context of the TUC decision, John Healey points out that, “all 28 member states of the EU are signatories to the fundamental ILO conventions”. However, at a fringe meeting on TTIP during Congress, Ben Davis of the US union USW made the point that the US will not ratify the ILO core conventions “in our lifetime”. A large majority of US Republicans in Congress have said that if TTIP is used to smuggle in Euro style labour rights to the US they will vote against it.

In any event it’s hard to see what could be agreed on labour rights that would lead to any raising of standards that are so urgently needed in the UK. Margaret Thatcher may not have renounced ILO Conventions; she didn’t need to. She passed a series of laws in the 1980s that have effectively taken British workers outside the protection of those Conventions. Cameron would surely not dismantle the system put in place by his hero.

The Lisbon Treaty created the procedure for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that allows campaigning groups that can organise a million signatories to a petition within a year, to force the Commission to formally respond to their request and hold a public hearing in the European Parliament. Last week, the Commission rejected the proposal to allow an ECI on TTIP and CETA. This decision prevents European citizens from forcing the Commission to review its policy on the treaties and to hold a hearing in the European Parliament.

TTIP is about democratic control of nations being subservient to control by global corporations. Not only are the negotiations in secret, not only will ISDS establish secret courts but the denial of the European Citizens’ Initiative will ensure that there is no public or parliamentary oversight of the process.

Congress was right to oppose the deal and Unite will continue to work with our sister unions and other campaigning groups to fight TTIP, CETA, TISA and any other trade agreement that threatens to undermine the democracy of Governments and their citizens, workers and consumers and operates only in the interests of global capital.

Steve Turner is the Assistant General Secretary at Unite

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  • David Lindsay

    John Healey is no longer Shadow Health Secretary. It is time for Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband to rule out TTIP in principle, and to call a Commons vote on that principle at the earliest opportunity.

    • Dave Postles

      This issue is, indeed, the biggest one facing us at this time, but no one is listening except the unions, some pressure groups and the Greens.

      • treborc1

        The UNions took a long time to decide on this, and I suspect Miliband will be thinking no not again, because I suspect labour will line up with the American on this one.

        • Sylvia

          No please. Surely Ed can see what TTIP will do to us. Maybe we need to keep reminding him & pushing for a vote against. Is he really so short sighted as to line up with the USA??

    • DaveAboard

      There is only one “NHS” hospital in this country wholly operated on a for-profit basis by a private company – Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon. The Health Secretary who made the decision to give to to the private sector, deliberately establishing a bidding process which ensured the local NHS consortium was financially barred from competing, was Andy Burnham. Hinchingbrooke now costs significantly more to operate than it did when Burnham described it as “failing” whilst delivering fewer services.

      The fact that Burnham is still in post 5 years on tells me that we can expect more of the same if Labour are elected next year. I suspect the only reason he hasn’t followed his predecessors into lucrative consultancies and directorships with the likes of Care UK, G4S, A4E etc is that even they recognise he is thoroughly useless bordering on toxic.

  • Monkey_Bach

    “The Americans also want to see the de-regulation of the EU agriculture and food sectors so they can foist hormone-treated beef, chlorinated poultry and GM cereals and salmon on unwilling Europeans.”

    If products and foodstuffs are labelled with their country of origin consumers will avoid and refuse to buy such garbage surely? That said, as is, TTIP seems to offer little to the individual European beyond some vague possibility that unfettered international economic activity creates more trade, jobs and wealth. Which is a moot point since in the past such arrangements have ended spawning the wealth of Croesus for a few and lives of exploitation, inequality and poverty for the many.

    Eeek.

  • Dave Postles

    Objections to TTIP listed here – what Labour will not consider.

  • Doug Smith

    If the Labour Party opposed TTIP they would absolutely skewer the Tories and UKIP in 2015 and romp home with landslide.

    But, yes, you’ve guessed it, along with the Tories and UKIP the LP supports TTIP.

    Perhaps we should now refer to the ‘profit before people’ establishment parties as the LibLabKipCon…

  • MonkeyBot5000

    Why are you still funding Labour when they clearly don’t give a damn about protecting your members?

  • Sylvia

    It’s about time this was shouted from the rooftops. TTIP is incredibly dangerous for all sorts of reasons, but especially as it confirms corporations (& markets) having more power than govts. Why doesn’t Ed & co shout against it.

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