Welcome to my latest update on TTIP, the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
My position on TTIP is (and always has been) simple. I will not support any treaty that is not in the best interests of the Scottish people or would damage the ability of the Scottish Government to manage public services as they deem appropriate. Such a statement is broad, but deliberately so.
I'm not anti trade, not for a second, nor is the SNP. Done right, opening up more trans-Atlantic trade could be good news. Could be. But TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement. It has a much bolder aim: to eliminate as many barriers to trade and economic activity as possible, through the convergence of trans-Atlantic regulations. This aim has profound implications for a wide range of public policies and democratic processes, and risks undermining the democratic right of Scotland to decide our own rules.
Since my last update, TTIP is slowly becoming more transparent as some documents have been made public, and all the EU negotiating documents are now available to MEPs in a secure reading room, literally a locked vault where MEPs can go in and read through the documents. This is welcome but does not go far enough.
I have recently been to the reading room in the European Parliament where I have looked at the EU’s current negotiating position. Having done so it is from this point that this update gets tricky. To enter the room itself was more complicated than it sounds. Before entry I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents me from telling anybody what I read. Strictly speaking, I’m not allowed to tell you anything about the content I saw, nor can I pass on any of the information I now have in my head to anyone, even to people in my own team! This is clearly ridiculous.
Frankly, it is untenable to have this situation continue and the Scottish people have as much right to inspect the documents as I do. Equally I should make clear I have only seen the EU’s negotiating position, nothing has been released from the US team and so we only have half the picture.
But, having seen the documents available to me, I am not convinced that the text is something I can support in its current form.
I do not feel that there is adequate provision in the treaty to recognise the position of Scotland within a member state comprised of four nations. Across Europe there are numerous differences within Member States in how public services are delivered and the treaty must cater for this. I stand with my SNP colleagues in Holyrood and Westminster in calling for an explicit opt-out of health care and other public services in Scotland.
However, it is important to note that Scotland is not a member state of the EU in our own right, only the UK government is entitled to ask for this opt out. Under the current constitution, the request must come from them, and their failure to do so thus far makes me nervous about their intent. Other sub-member state regions have demanded opt-outs and it is now the time to place pressure on the UK government to specifically protect Scotland. The privatisation of water has long been the case in the UK as a whole, Scotland is the exception, in UK terms, in that we have kept water very much in public hands. Equally the opening of the health service in England to privatisation has not occurred in Scotland and we must not face a future in fear of treaties that threaten this. Unless changes occur and it becomes clear that the entirety of the UK will not be treated in the same way then I am unconvinced that TTIP can be viewed positively.
There have also been developments in the committees of the European Parliament. Both the foreign affairs committee and agriculture committee are producing opinions on TTIP. It is clear to me that maintaining the quality of the food we eat is crucial and I have submitted a series of amendments to my colleagues on the agriculture committee requesting that TTIP exempt agricultural products.
My fear is that recognising US farmed produce as equivalent will make it impossible for Scottish farmers to fairly compete and result in the lowering of standards by the back door. This is clearly very concerning for Scottish farmers and consumers. Considering the radically different farming systems in the US and Scotland this seems to me to be the best way to protect farmers and I urge my colleagues to support my amendments. I will of course update you on how we get on.
I hope to continue to play a role in the development of TTIP as the treaty moves forward. It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before it is a treaty that will be in the interests of Scotland. By remaining engaged in the process, I hope that MEPs, the Commission, pressure groups and the public can co-operate to produce a treaty that will benefit Scotland.
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