Much has been debated in recent months on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed EU-US trade deal, It is both welcome and vital that this deal is receiving proper scrutiny from trade unions, civil society and business. This issue was also the subject of a Backbench Business Debate in parliament on December 10.
Some constituents have told me about their concerns on TTIP, for example that it could include insufficient exemptions for the NHS and other public services; that it could lead to serious legal challenges; and that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) could result in transferring power away from people. These are all reasons why pushing for more transparency and accountability is vital.
We also need to recognise potential benefits that a deal on trade could provide for Britain’s workers and industries. Britain is a trading nation and balanced trade deals have a positive impact on jobs and growth. It is therefore crucial then that any benefits which an EU-US trade deal delivers filters down to employees, small businesses and consumers, that the deal is open and accountable, and that it does not dilute current labour, consumer, environmental and food safety standards.
Trade deals also provide unique opportunities to properly regulate global trade. This means we need careful and reflective thinking because in a rapidly changing global economy we are increasingly trading with countries, for example China, whose labour laws do not match our high standards. A balanced TTIP, one that promotes, rather than weakens social, labour and environmental standards, regulating a quarter of all global trade, could provide a welcome departure from a race to the bottom.
The proposals should receive proper scrutiny at both a UK and EU level and any final deal must have transparency and accountability at its heart. I was disappointed that the Coalition Government have paid such little attention to these concerns. It is important the current Government ensure these issues are covered in the negotiating process.
I fought the General Election on a Labour manifesto that recognised the potential benefits of TTIP, but emphasised that any final agreement needs to ensure that the NHS is protected, promotes decent jobs and avoids a race to the bottom.
Labour MEPs have also made the case in the European Parliament to exclude public services – including our NHS – from TTIP negotiations and to ensure workers’ rights, environmental standards and food safety standards are protected. A number of worries similar to our own have 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.
The Government needs to listen and respond to these concerns. I will follow 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.