Tag: Public interests

Urgent: UK-US trade inquiry and consultation quietly launched by select committee, deadline for submissions this Monday

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A Commons Select Committee launched a public inquiry on 2 February. The International Trade Committee invited the public to send their views regarding the upcoming UK-US trade deal. The Committee will use those ideas to form recommendations for the government’s approach to the deal. 

However, in addition to the fact that the inquiry wasn’t widely publicised, the time scale given for responding is less than a month. The deadline for written submissions is (unbelievably) Monday 27 February 2017

The Conservatives wholly endorsed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would have enshrined the rights of corporations under International Law, and restrict future governments in overturning the changes through the threat of expensive legal action. These are the largest trade agreements in history, and yet they are NOT open for review, debate or amendment by Parliaments or the public.

The agreements would have shifted the balance of power between corporations and the state – effectively creating a corporatocracy. It would have NO democratic foundation or restraint whatsoever. The main thrust of the agreement was that corporations will be able to actively exploit their increased rights through the TPP and TTIP to extend the interests of the corporation, which is mostly to maximise their profits.

Human rights and public interests certainly would not have been a government priority. Six hundred US corporate advisors have had input into the TTIP. The draft text was not made available to the public, press or policy makers. The level of secrecy around the trade agreement was unparalleled. The majority of US Congress were also kept in the dark while representatives of US corporations were consulted and privy to the details.

A major concern for many of us was that many of the regulations likely to be affected under TTIP are designed to protect our health and the environment by setting safe levels of pesticides in food and chemicals in our toiletries and household cleaning products for example. These safeguards will be eroded or eliminated, potentially exposing people to greater risks of unsafe, unregulated commercial goods to support the interests of multinationals.

The infamous TTIP (and the EU-Canada trade deal CETA) provide likely blueprints for future trade deals. So we also have a good idea of what kind of potential dangers for our public services, such as the NHS, lie ahead. Trump, like the Conservative government here in the UK, is a strong advocate of deregulation and “free market competition” – which effectively means that (even more) of our public services are at risk of being sold off to big multinational companies.

The Conservative privatisation programme has been an unmitigated failure. We have witnessed scandalous price rigging, massive job losses and job insecurity, decreased wages and poorer working conditions, profoundly decreased standards in service delivery, disempowerment of our unions, and above all, at terrible cost to many citizens. But then the Conservatives will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not the public, as we know. In Britain, privatisation is primarily driven by the neoliberal New Right’s ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State” and to “increase efficiency”. 

SumOfUs – a global campaign that fights for people over profits, and is committed to curbing the growing power of corporations – have drafted six key demands for a better, more just trade deal with the aim of “letting Theresa May know right from the start that we won’t let her turn Brexit into a corporate takeover.” 

The SumOfUs community has urged the UK government to uphold the following principles in negotiating a trade agreement with the US: 

1. Labour, climate and human rights agreements and how they’re implemented in UK law should take precedence over the trade agreement.

2. Violations of human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protection should be sanctionable, and those sanctions meaningful and effective. 

3. Negotiations need to happen transparently and inclusively. Text proposals as well as consolidated treaty texts need to be published to allow for public scrutiny and robust debate. Corporations must not be granted privileged access.

4. No special rights for investors. The deal should not enable US corporations to sue the UK over policy in the public interest that threatens their profits.

5. All public services must be exempt and protected from corporate takeover. 

6. No race to the bottom on regulation – all laws should be harmonised to the highest standard and should always allow a party to go beyond the levels of protections agreed upon.

You can visit SumOfUs site to add your name to their message to the International Trade Committee, and endorse the six outlined principles. 

The inquiry is to examine the potential for a UK-US trade agreement, the opportunities and challenges any agreement might present and the implications for the production and sale of goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic. It will make recommendations to the Government on how it should approach trade relations with the US. 

Interested organisations or individuals are invited to submit written evidence to the Committee. (Quickly.)

Terms of reference

The Committee is particularly interested in the following:

  • what the UK’s priorities and objectives should be in negotiating any such agreement;
  • the possible impacts (positive and negative) on specific sectors of the UK economy from such an agreement;
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in services, including public services; 
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in public procurement;
  • how any agreement should approach regulation, including regulatory harmonisation;
  • what dispute-resolution mechanism should form part of any such agreement; and
  • what involvement, if any, the UK should seek to have in the North American Free Trade Area or any future regional free trade agreement involving the USA.

Send a written submission to the International Trade Committee

Update: The deadline for written submissions is extended to Tuesday 7 March 2017. Written evidence should be submitted via the inquiry page, so you will still have to act quickly to have your say.

Chair’s comments

On launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Angus MacNeil MP commented:

“It seems highly likely that a trade deal with the US will be this Government’s first step in their attempts to reshape the UK’s economic relationship with the rest of the world. This will be a tough test. The UK will be entering negotiations led by a newly formed department. They may feel the need for a deal to show the rest of the world, and domestic audience, that the UK is open for business. And any outline agreement could impact on how our negotiations progress with the EU. 

The US might not be expected to offer many concessions, either. In his first days in office, President Trump has not shied away from implementing his campaign pledges, no matter how radical. How will his pledge to buy American and hire American sit with his aim to negotiate a deal “very quickly” with the UK? Is the President’s desire to prove his reputation for winning in deals bad news for a UK wanting some form of equal partnership?

Most importantly, this is a necessary inquiry as we must move beyond the showmanship and controversy that will no doubt be a feature of this process, and drill down to the detail of what is proposed. What should be the UK’s red lines? What sectors could win and lose? Will access to public services be on the table? 

Crucially, we want to explore how far Ministers should be prepared to go to get the marquee deal they are after.”

Related

A UK trade deal with Trump? Be careful what you wish for

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Labour MEPs secure support to reject the ISDS clause in the TTIP

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In January, Labour MEPs called on the European Commission to provide alternatives to the inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), following its response to a Europe-wide public consultation.

Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, reports that Labour have secured the support of their colleagues in calling for the ISDS clause to be removed from the EU-US trade deal.

The controversial ISDS clause of the TTIP would allow private companies to sue governments if they felt that a decision or law impacted on their ability to make profit. It will now be opposed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, which Labour MEPs are a part of.

On the 4 March, the S&D group in the European Parliament decided to oppose ISDS in an almost unanimous vote. The proposal was supported by 78 votes to five against. The adopted position was drafted by Labour MEP David Martin, who is the group co-ordinator on trade issues.

The S&D working group was headed by UK Labour Party MEPs including David Martin (chair), Jude Kirton-Darling (spokesperson on TTIP and CETA – The Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement: the negotiated EU-Canada treaty) and Richard Corbett (Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament).

David Martin said: “We have always been opposed to ISDS as a group, although we didn’t have a chance to adopt a formal decision on this matter since the last European elections in 2014. In doing so today, we are responding to the thousands of constituents and the many civil society organisations that have asked us to clarify our position.”

Jude Kirton-Darling added: “This decision … will prove to be a real game-changer, not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also with respect to the ratification of the Canada agreement.

The European Commission and Europe’s Conservatives will need our support in the end if they want to see TTIP through. Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message that we can only contemplate support if our conditions are met. One such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP.”

 Richard Corbett said: “Today the Labour Party has demonstrated that engaging with our neighbours across the EU yields tangible results in the interest of the general public. Labour were instrumental in securing this outcome, and this is a tribute to the hard work, commitment and resolve of Labour MEPs.”

Glenis Willmott summarised : “This decision by the S&D group will be a real game changer not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also for the approval of a trade agreement with Canada. The European Commission and centre-right group in the Parliament will need our support if they want to see TTIP through.

“Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message we can only support it if private tribunals are left out of TTIP. Labour has proven that engaging with our neighbours gets real results in the public interest. We were instrumental in getting this agreement and we will continue to stand up for the NHS and our public services.”

This is an excellent achievement. The ISDS contradicts principles of democratic accountability and would potentially allow one government to bind another for decades to come. Unlike the great majority of other treaties, investment treaties have very long minimum lifespans ranging up to 30 years.

Much debate has arisen concerning the impact of controversial ISDS on the capacity of governments to implement reforms and legislative and policy programs related to public health, environmental protection, labour and human rights.

It’s been of particular worry that the current Tory-led mass privatisation process has been a total failure. In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. We have witnessed scandalous price-rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. This is because the Tories will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not public needs, as we know.

In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State.”

Where the ISDS has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big global corporations, already with too much power, to sue Governments in front of secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass our domestic courts and override the decisions of parliaments and interests of citizens.

Not that this would be a particular issue of concern in the case of the UK, with the current Government always favouring policies that promote the interests of such powerful businesses, anyway.

But this mechanism would also remove any chance whatsoever of public interests being a consideration in the decision-making process.  In short, it would bypass what remains of our democratic process completely. And it would bind subsequent governments.

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 to reiterate, it would 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.

The Labour Party understand that no matter how economically beneficial the Conservatives have claimed the TTIP to be, potentially, such serious threats posed by the ISDS clause to civil rights, citizen well-being and democracy are untenable.

252299_486936058042594_609527550_nThanks to Robert Livingstone.