The impact of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal on environmental protections in Europe is to be investigated by parliament. Opposition MPs will examine if the agreement could weaken regulations on chemical and pesticide use, oil and gas extraction and genetically modified food.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and the US. Those who support it claim that it will “boost” economies. However there have been many concerns raised regarding this agreement. Critics say that not only have the economic benefits of TTIP have been overstated, it will additionally put downward pressure on regulation in sectors such as health and the environment and poses a significant threat to national democratic decision-making.
Worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation process 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 be carried out behind closed doors. Corporates can 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.
In August 2014, Labour MP Katy Clark urged David Cameron to stop the EU-US trade pact from opening more public services to the private sector.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has remained under negotiation behind closed doors, “would let companies sue if national governments pass laws that hurt profits,” Ms Clark warned.
“This is bad news for our existing public services such as the NHS, or other services that we may wish to take back into public ownership such as the railways.
“Private companies already run certain services but under the new plans the government would never be allowed to run these again, as doing so would hurt the profits of the companies involved.”
Since discussions on the content of the Treaty have remained secret, its exact content is unknown, (including to the Labour Party) but private firms on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to use competition rules to force open what remains of the public sector.
During a parliamentary debate in February, secured by back bench Labour MP John Healy, Labour MPs, including Katy Clark, raised many concerns about the TTIP. Jeremy Corbyn said: “Why is there such secrecy surrounding the negotiations? Why are not all the documents on the table? Why are the demands made on European public services by the American negotiators not made public? Why are not the demands made in the other direction also made public? I suspect that, if the agreement ever comes to fruition, every Parliament in Europe and the US system will be presented with a fait accompli: they will be told that they have to accept it.”
Ian Lavery commented: “A number of people have said that there must be a good business case for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I think that we need much more than a good business case. I am concerned that there are huge inherent dangers in the TTIP for many working people and for public services in the UK. My major concern is that the trade agreement has the potential to dilute workers’ rights.”
Katy Clark, the North Ayrshire and Arran MP, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to protect public services and pointed out that France won the right to continue supporting its film industry and that the US had blocked any deal on its finance sector.
She said: “If the leaders of these countries can protect what’s important to them, then David Cameron can do the same for Britain.”
Neil Clark from the Campaign for Public Ownership, said the Labour MP’s warning was timely as people had “still not woken up to the consequences of TTIP.”
“It is fundamentally undemocratic, since though large majorities of the public are in favour of renationalising key services such as the railways or energy, subsequent governments would be unable to do so without breaking the terms of the pact.
“But it would impose privatisation forever and must be stopped in its tracks.”
Angela Eagle said: “I know that following widespread public concern, the European Commission halted negotiations on the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) section of TTIP pending the outcome of a public consultation. I appreciate that there are serious concerns about the potential impact of the ISDS provisions and I hope that the European Commission will consider the responses to this consultation carefully.”
In November last year, Labour MP Clive Efford, with the backing of the party’s leadership, called for the exemption of the NHS from the trade deal. It was a victory for the Private Member’s Bill to repeal the Tory privatisation of the NHS and Exempt the NHS from the TTIP Agreement. Mr Efford said: “The Bill will not save the NHS overnight – only the election of a Labour government can do that. But it does give all MPs the opportunity to accept that the 2012 Act has been a disaster and to begin to create an NHS which puts patient care at the centre of all it does, not private profit.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, claimed that signing TTIP could jeopardise the founding principles of the health service. The many critics of this trade agreement fear that the deal would leave the NHS vulnerable to takeover by American healthcare giants and undermine the principle of a service free at the point of delivery.
Joan Walley MP, chair of the Commons Select Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which launched its inquiry on 8th January, said: “We will be investigating whether it really is possible to sign such a deal and at the same time safeguard European environmental standards, as negotiators have claimed.
Greater transatlantic trade and investment could be beneficial for Britain, but we must monitor these talks carefully to ensure they are not trading-in the rules that keep our food and environment safe.”
A recent report from the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel) argues that the European chemical industry wants the US system of chemical risk assessment to be adopted, which the group says would allow the use of over 80 pesticides currently banned in the EU. Other campaigners say US biotech companies want to use TTIP to open EU borders to imports of genetically modified food.
Samuel Lowe, from Friends of the Earth, said: “With the potential for essential environmental and food standards to be discarded as ‘trade irritants’, the TTIP presents a unique challenge to the health of our environment. The EAC should scrutinise the proposals and ensure that these serious concerns are no longer brushed under the carpet.”
Absolutely. Labour has said very clearly that they won’t back this Treaty unless the NHS and other key public services are excluded. The crucial inquiry, which Labour MPs have called for is welcome. It`will focus on the potential environmental impacts in the UK of TTIP, including through changes to regulations and product standards and the operation of an “inter-state dispute settlement” regime; and on the potential effects on developing countries. Gathering evidence is an essential when it comes to the process of agreeing, formulating or rejecting policies
“Just what will TTIP mean for our jobs, environment, consumer rights – and publicly provided health service?
Lord Howe said we couldn’t exempt the NHS because it would place our pharmaceutical companies at a disadvantage.
If we don’t do something about the TTIP it may be all of us who will be at a disadvantage.
And one thing which is clear is that the TTIP will open up the NHS to American private health companies.”
There are some things we just can’t afford to risk – and the NHS is one of them.
Andy Burnham has already been to Brussels to discuss NHS exemptions.
Labour is committed to them.
“The report – on the workings of NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which has been around for 20 years suggests we may need to go further – and we certainly need far more open discussion of what’s at stake.
This is something the LibDem/Tory Coalition seem very reluctant to have.
Could the pattern of funding of the Tory party have anything to do with that?
We merely ask.” – TTIP/ EU-US Trade Agreement – you can’t trust the LibDem/Tory Coalition with the NHS – Alex Sobel MP
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone