There is considerable public concern about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations that are currently taking place.
Constituents have raised a number of issues, in particular how TTIP may impact on our public services, such as the NHS; how proposed resolutions of trade disputes may impact on government decision making; and how the agreement will impact on consumer safety standards.
These proposals must receive proper scrutiny in both the UK and in the EU and any final deal must be transparent and accountable. The former Coalition Government gave too little attention to these type of concerns. The current government must ensure that the negotiating process gives full consideration to them.
Labour’s 2015 General Election manifesto gave a commitment to ensure that the NHS is fully protected. Clearly, Labour did not win the General Election, but I remain committed to not supporting a final TTIP agreement unless it provides protection both in the agreement and as part of any Investor State Dispute Resolution mechanism.
According to the NHS Confederation: ‘The latest text of the EU’s negotiating proposal to the US, made public on 31 July, contains strong safeguards which enable Member States to retain full control over how they provide health services. The text on services, investment and commerce contains the same safeguards for health services as in CETA, the trade agreement between the EU and Canada. In particular, it safeguards the right of EU Member States to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to: the provision of all health services which receive public funding or state support in any form; medical and dental services and services provided by midwives, nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics; and research and development which receives public funding or state support in any form.’
On the proposed Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDS) mechanism, this is commonly used in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. It allows investors to take proceedings against a government that is party to that trade agreement if the government is found to be in breach of its obligations. Governments must be able to legislate in the public interest. This right must be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. The European Commission has instigated several changes which have improved the transparency of the agreement. I welcome these. I and my Labour colleagues will be continue to urge the government to use this opportunity to call for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest, like the NHS.
The benefits of any treaty must be felt by employees and consumers. Fears have been expressed that TTIP could reduce standards, even though the principle behind the draft Treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. My support will only go to an agreement that denies a race to the bottom, promotes good jobs and safeguards standards.
Labour Members of the European Parliament are opposing elements of the TTIP negotiations which could undermine national sovereignty, damage public services or drive down standards for workers, consumers, the environment or public health. A number of these concerns have also been raised by other EU member states and these will need to be reflected to secure agreement and therefore will have to be taken on board by the European Commission.
Having said all this, trade agreements can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers. TTIP, as a trade agreement between the US (the world’s largest economy) and the EU (the largest single market) has the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are the UK’s most important markets today. Indeed, the US is the UK’s biggest export market and likewise the UK economy attracts a significant level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from across the Atlantic. More and better trade is good for the UK, and reducing barriers could for example help our car industry export more vehicles to the US where there are regulations inhibiting this and negotiations might remove.
I believe that it is really important that the UK remains a member of the EU, otherwise any trade deal between the UK and the USA would be negotiated by the current Government that may well have a different view to mine on these matters.
I hope that the government now listen and respond to these concerns. I will be following this issue very closely and press the government to ensure that TTIP delivers the jobs, growth and fairer deal for consumers we all want to see. Otherwise, I won’t support it.