When David Cameron, together with the other prime ministers of the European Union, gave the green light to the European Commission to start negotiating a trade deal with the US, he would have been well-advised to keep a much closer brief on what was being discussed.
Now, nearly 18 months into the largest grassroots campaign on a trade deal since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was set up 20 years ago, the Prime Minister has been caught short, and his true contempt for people’s concerns is once more coming to shore. When referring to widespread fears about safety, fairness and democracy as “nonsense” while asking for the unreserved trust of the very people he has spurned, David Cameron is only demonstrating that the public is better informed than he is on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These warnings he should heed.
Legitimate concerns and distrust in our national and European institutions can also lead to misinformation and exaggeration. In truth, any positive or negative claims about what is or is not in TTIP should be taken with a pinch of salt as no common text has yet been agreed on any of the chapters of TTIP. That, in itself, is one of the major problems.
To make sense of the TTIP debate, it is therefore crucial to understand the distinction between the various arguments being used. Arguments based on the content of the negotiating mandate can state with certainty what the European Commission is allowed to accept, what it cannot compromise over and what it is expected to achieve. Arguments based on the content of recently concluded trade deals, such as the agreement with Canada (CETA), give an indication on what the Commission is aiming for, and what the government has been doing in similar situations in the past. Claims based on anything else mostly reflect fears and hopes, and fears and hopes only. But it’s these fears and hopes that could easily derail TTIP.
As the Labour Party’s spokespersons on TTIP in the European Parliament and Westminster, we have heard the concerns voiced by thousands across the UK, and we will listen to thousands more in the weeks and months to come. We have also heard the positive expectations that this trade deal triggers. Faced with a choice between Cassandra and Pollyanna, we choose to stick to the only sensible approach we know: honesty and hard work.
To be honest is to recognise the legitimate concerns that TTIP could seriously hamper our ability to restore fairness in Britain. Insufficient exemptions for the NHS, and other public services could lead to serious legal challenges to any future re-nationalisation. There are concerns that TTIP could also challenge transparency and accountability, as any Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), even a reformed one, could create the perception of transferring power away from the people. There are also concerns that our safety could also be at risk. We will be campaigning hard to ensure that proper provisions on labour and environmental standards are included to prevent social dumping, pressures on wages and hampering our efforts to tackle climate change.
But honesty also implies to acknowledge that a deal which properly addresses every single one of our concerns would have to be welcomed. The economic impact of TTIP is widely debated, and it is important to bear in mind that it will entirely depend on its final scope. However, we do know from recent history that balanced trade deals do have a positive impact on economic activity and job creations. Regardless how large this impact might be, if we find that the final deal will help rather than hinder then it would be irresponsible to reject it. We are nonetheless aware that the impact of trade largely depends on the pre-existing levels of unemployment, and this is why we insist that TTIP will need to promote labour rights in the US, as the alternative is that it would harm workers in the EU.
Ultimately, TTIP represents a rare opportunity to regulate globalisation. This opportunity should not be discarded lightly. In a rapidly changing global economy, we are increasingly trading with partners such as China that do not recognise our rights and standards. This unregulated trade already challenges our social and environmental model. A balanced TTIP, one that promotes rather than weaken standards, regulating a quarter of all global trade, could mark a departure from this race to the bottom.
So rather than disengaging by already accepting or rejecting the deal unreservedly before it is even drafted, we have chosen to act in Brussels and in the UK to try to address all of these concerns. Just as Clement Attlee’s post-war government led the left in regulating global trade by signing Britain up to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs – the forerunner of the WTO. It’s in that spirit that we have set out our parameters and told the European Commission and the Coalition Government that we would not support the deal if our terms are not met. And we are working hard to build a consensus within the European Parliament and in the House of Commons on these parameters, so that when it comes to a vote the majority will be on the right side of the argument: the side of the people.
We are not prepared to accept any deal that is unfair to the British people. This underpins our arguments. Crucially this means that public services, including the NHS, must be fully exempted from TTIP. The European Commission mandate prevents it from including services that are still publicly funded. But it leaves the possibility to include services that have been privatised in recent years.,. TTIP must guarantee our full ability to provide any service publicly if the British people choose to do so. The coalition government claim that the NHS is safe but refuse to specifically exclude it in the draft text. That can only lead you to the conclusion that the biggest threat to our NHS is not TTIP but the Tory-led government.
We are not prepared to accept any deal that does not satisfy our concerns on safety. Upholding high food safety standards and the precautionary principle has been a constant stance of the European Union over the last 20 years, and we do not expect it to change with TTIP. The Commission mandate is very clear in this regard. We are however hugely concerned with the increasingly weak outcomes reached by the Commission in recent trade deals when it comes to protecting workers abroad. In order to be acceptable, TTIP will need to contain strong commitments from the US to establish a level playing field with the EU in terms of labour rights with the EU rights being the baseline on which to build. It goes without saying that any weakening of our own standards would be plainly counterproductive.
We must argue for a deal that puts transparency and accountability at its heart. Private arbitration mechanisms offering the possibility to investors to claim for compensation from the State in case of unfair treatments can be justified in trade deals amongst partners with uneven level of investment protection, and where due process of law cannot be guaranteed. It is not the case as far as both the US and EU are concerned, and we will argue strongly against any mechanism that would create a parallel justice for multinationals, subject to opacity, conflict of interests and able to make undemocratic rulings. Ultimately, TTIP must not challenge our ability to adopt and implement laws and regulations as we see fit and are elected to enact.
There are ways that the agreement could deliver more for businesses in the UK and help create more jobs. A critical point is that the US States aren’t covered by the agreement and therefore their large procurement budgets wouldn’t be opened up for EU business including Britain. Opening up these procurement markets. This could be deliver big opportunities for our businesses.
We must get fully involved in the TTIP negotiations if we want to avoid our worse fears materialising, and push for a progressive regulation of global trade. The stakes are too high for Labour to afford any complacency, whether stemming from over-confidence that the deal will be positive no matter what or a complete lack of confidence that we cannot influence the negotiations. You can trust us to remain concerned, sensible and engaged about TTIP to ensure it provides the stated benefits and filters down to benefit both small businesses and consumers.
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, European Parliamentary Labour party spokesperson on TTIP; Ian Murray MP, Labour party shadow trade and investment minister