Today the House of Commons will get an opportunity to debate the EU-US TTIP trade deal. A briefing paper for MPs, prepared by the House of Commons library, states the aims of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal are ‘to increase trade and investment between the US and EU by reducing tariffs (particularly on agricultural products), aligning regulations and standards, improving protection for overseas investors, and increasing access to services and government procurement markets by foreign providers.’
Ever since the negotiations on this controversial trade deal were launched in 2013, I have been of the view that TTIP is nothing more than a corporate charter. By focusing on harmonising product regulation and standards and protecting the rights of investors it risks undermining Europe’s high standards in labour rights, environment, food safety and animal welfare. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is one of the most controversial aspects of the deal as it would allow corporations the right, through tribunals outside the domestic legal system, to challenge democratic decisions taken in the public interest, where these threaten corporate profits. Fearful of being sued by corporations, this could prevent governments implementing public policy for the common good.
As an MEP of a largely rural constituency I have been particularly concerned at the focus on “harmonisation” between the EU and US in agriculture. There are few issues of greater divergence than that of agriculture, and few issues where there is a greater threat to the livelihoods of communities in the UK. The US has identified a number of ‘barriers’ towards ratifying a deal. These barriers include the EU’s policies on opposition to genetically modified crops; the EU’s ban on hormone-treated beef; its refusal to accept chlorine-washed chicken and its protective system of geographical indications – labelling which identifies where products originate from.
Last week members of the European Parliament’s Agricultural Committee, of which I am a member, had an opportunity to ask questions of the American Ambassador. I asked how he could guarantee that TTIP will not result in a race to the bottom in agriculture. He responded by saying that we need not fear competition. Nor, for the record, did he mind eating chlorinated chicken, ‘because we all swim in chlorinated pools’!
His answer completely missed the point. Inferior quality products produced intensively and under lower environmental and animal welfare standards in the US will of course be able to undercut higher quality products which conform to higher standards. He also failed to understand the particular nature of landscapes such as the South West which prevent the large-scale intensive farming that reduces prices.
Some have argued that TTIP is a good example of all that is bad about the EU and is reason enough to support Brexit. But Cameron has been a cheer-leader for TTIP since its inception. The Tories would gladly create alternative trade deals with the US and others if we left the EU. Indeed a proposed trade deal with Ethiopia, or a recent deal with Colombia, show a government happy to sign up to damaging trade deals.
In his recent letter to Donald Tusk, Cameron spells out the EU reforms he wants to see. He makes clear how much he welcomes a new strategy on trade, something that reflects an agenda the UK government has been ‘advocating for years, including pursuing potentially massive trade deals with America, China, Japan and ASEAN’. Combined with this trade agenda Cameron wants to cut the ‘burden’ of regulation.
We should not be under any illusions: a UK outside the EU and governed by the Tories would lead to even further trade liberalisation, even more damaging trade deals and a deregulated corporate free-for-all.