Lately, constituents have been contacting me with their concerns about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). I have been monitoring this closely and share many of these concerns, in particular the secrecy that has surrounded the negotiations.
Yes, TTIP could be beneficial for Scotland, Europe and the UK. Removing the current trade barriers could make it easier to buy and sell goods between the EU and the US, and will therefore create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
But traditional trade barriers, such as tariffs i.e. a tax on imported goods, are (with the exception of some agricultural products) virtually non-existent already between the EU and the US. When TTIP negotiators talk of “trade barriers” they are referring to national regulatory standards and social norms. These “barriers” represent some of our most vital social standards and environmental regulations, like food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, and even banking safeguards to defend against another banking crash.
A TTIP deal could be beneficial if it required the EU and USA to agree to the highest possible standards and regulations in promoting public health, labour rights and ecological integrity.
Instead, the current negotiation agenda has been set by big business.
The potential for corporate interests to exploit the deal could lead to a complete undermining of the democratic process and allow, through the Investor to State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, foreign investors to sue sovereign EU nations for loss of future profits should the government create new regulations that would impact on the company’s investment. Phillip Morris is suing the Australian government through ISDS for Australia’s introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. Ordinary citizens and domestic companies have no access to these arbitration panels which are generally staffed by corporate lawyers.
This is unacceptable and I am opposed to it.
My SNP colleague Ian Hudghton MEP is similarly concerned with the current TTIP process, and has noted that Scottish farmers in particular will be disadvantaged by the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade. Food production methods in the USA include hormone-injected beef, chicken washed in chlorine baths, and pork treated with Ractopamine. Scottish consumers must not be subjected to lower food standards than the ones enjoyed at present.
TTIP may open public service and government procurement contracts to mandatory competitive tendering and, through opening up the channels for foreign investors to sue governments, could elevate transnational capital to the status of a nation-state. In relation to the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, TTIP must not impact on the freedom of democratically elected governments to legislate in the public interest.
The negotiation process is by no means finished, with multiple matters of contention in need of a solution before any deal can be agreed by EU member states and voted on by MEPs. As such, I will be paying very close attention to the progress of the TTIP talks. It is important to remember that TTIP cannot be agreed until approved by both the European Parliament and the parliaments of all EU Member States.
So please, don’t worry. I’m going to be watching this very carefully and this is by no means a done deal.