So off to a meeting on TTIP, chaired by Larry Elliot, one of Britain’s foremost economic journalists introducing a panel consisting of Polly Jones of the WDM, Judith Kirton-Darling, one of Labour’s new MEPs and a member of the EP Trade Committee, Dave Prentiss, (UNISON) , Gary Smith (GMB) and one of the national officers from the University & Colleges Union who was standing in for their General Secretary, Sally Hunt. (Was it Greg Barnett?). The meeting was kicked off by Polly Jones of the WDM.
She said this treaty is the big one, it will cover ½ of the world’s trade and is a basic statement for neo-liberalism. There are four strands to the treaty as far as we can tell, since the negotiations take place in secrecy. While there are good reasons for this, the secrecy is asymmetric, civil society can’t see the positions, the corporate sector and their lobbyists can; which is wrong. The four parts of the treaty, from what’s been leaked and what we can see of the Canadian equivalent which is ahead in the schedule, are,
- tariff reduction,
- deregulation & harmonisation,
- liberalism &
- investor protection
Everyone’s in favour of Tariff Reduction, but the tariffs between the US and EU are not high. This could be why the economic benefits are trivial even on the terms of its supporters and questionable when one looks at precedent of NAFTA, the treaty between the US, Canada and Mexico.
With respect to harmonisation in many of the product markets, the US standards are lower in most cases than those of Europe. In Europe in the fields of food and chemical safety, Europe operates a precautionary principle and there’s a massive fear that Europe will have to lower its standards of consumer, employee and environmental protection. (When did we over take the US on that?) I have written a lot on this blog on the US entertainment industry’s attempts to ‘harmonise’ the intellectual property laws and so there are fears that any changes in this sphere of law is likely to be anti-consumer and anti-citizen. Another interesting area is financial services where the US have led the way in tightening up the legislative supervision of the financial services, and with Sarbanes Oxley the whole of corporate governance. Are the lobbyists going to let Europe, win that one? (I am not sure that because the US has led with SOX and Dodd Frank, that the European regulations which are under development will be any less rigorous).
The TUC and its larger members are coming to the conclusion that like ACTA, it’s not in the interests of ordinary citizens. This is driven largely by fears of the diminution of the employee protection rights embeded in the social chapter and also by the threat that Investor State Dispute Systems place on the collective provision of public services. (I have written about ISDS, here, here and here, and I have included my linkroll with the search key of ISDS immediately below.)
Jude Kirton Darling reinforced Polly’s comments by saying the crucial issues, or lines in the sand was ISDS, followed by the environment and public services. She mentioned the EU Commission consultation, which was extended and led to 150,000 responses. While this is not necessary a lot for a Union of over 400m people, in the UK a petition which involves pressing two buttons that gets 100,000 supporters gets a debate in parliament. The consultation, which I responded to, required a statement of views. 150,000 is a lot, the biggest consultation response ever. The vast bulk of the responses were anti-ISDS. She also stated that incoming Commission would seem to be more anti-ISDS than the outgoing one. De Grucht has been replaced by Malmström, a Belgian Nationalist with a Swedish Right Winger. I’d say it’s hard to call the impact of the change although De Grucht was a hard line pro-business shill, Malmström’s record and interests are different, Are we seeing, again, a split in the right between the free marketeers and social conservatives in the EPP? If so, I’d expect Malmström to come down on the side of the free marketeers, although that’s because of her alignment, On the commission as a whole, over the last five years, four governments have moved to the left and two to the right.
TTIP requires the listing of exclusions, is this where we missed the boat in the last EP – is this the impact of the procurement directive?
JKD predicted that the EP is unlikely to approve ISDS, which she believes the US is trying to get embedded in world trade agreements because they need to entangle China. She stated that the purpose of ISDS is to protect companies against non-independent judiciaries in states with a weak rule of law and a propensity for confiscation. These criteria are not the case in either Europe or the US and she repeated there’s little appetite in the EP for it. (Or I would suggest China!)
Dave Prentiss, the General Secretary of Unison, the 2nd largest union spoke and let rip with both barrels at CETA. It’s everything we don’t want, it’s anti-labour, anti-environment and ISDS threatens the public, collective provision of the National Health Service. Since ISDS lets foreign companies sue governments for public policy that adversely impacts their profits in non-accountable courts, any attempt to reverse the privatisations, to prefer public sector providers in the NHS would cause problems to a Labour Government looking to reverse the privatisations already undertaken. (George Monbiot). He was critical of those members of the PLP that were looking at the trade advantages rather than IDDS and its threat to the NHS.
Gary Smith, National Secretary of the GMB standing in for Paul Kenny spoke next. He said that the #indyref shows that when real choices are to be made people want their say. Since #ttip is the encoding of neo-liberalism, it must be opposed by the TU’s and the Left and he finished with an attack on the Tories who enable and pander to euro-scepticsm on the grounds of national sovereignty but look to a treaty of this nature to embed capitalist values against the will of parliaments and the UK’s treasured parliamentary sovereignty. It’s my view that the fact that these treaties all have living agreement clauses which control their amendment process, they are one time power gifts. In the UK, parliament can’t legally do this, so I think we fail to understand that once granted to the treaty, its courts and its amendment process it’s never coming back.
The panel session was completed by a speaker from the University & College Union (UCU), who linked Gove’s Free Schools initiative with privatisation and hence to ISDS – it’s not just the NHS. (I would have added that the tripling of tuition fees and the cutting of the HE funding grants has also privatised the HE sector, albeit to the consumers and not the shareholders. I am gald the UCU came to put their case.
I was lucky enough to be asked to ask the first question and so asked four, although Larry tried to stop me at three;
- If they agree to exclude the Health Service from ISDS, is that enough?
- What would they say to those members of the PLP who seem to think it is?
- Could they comment on the privacy implications of #ttip?
- Would they like to comment on the ‘living agreement’ clauses?
Only the first question was really addressed, and the feeling is that No, it’s not just about the NHS. The answers to my last two questions were lost. Despite the answers, it’s clear that it’s felt the NHS is the trump card, although perhaps not by Gary Smith. I hope I hear him again.