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TTIP Update February 2016

Welcome to my latest Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) update.

The SNP MEPs (myself and Ian Hudghton) have set out clear red lines and we will not compromise upon them. The NHS and other public services must be clearly carved out, European standards must not be compromised and corporations must not be given any special rights to sue governments that pursue policies they disagree with.

I still think it could be possible to reform treaties such as TTIP in a positive direction and I will use every effort to do so. It would be irresponsible to disengage from the process and then complain afterwards that the end result isn’t good enough. I am deeply concerned but, so long as I have a mandate to get the best deal for Scotland, I will not take the easy approach of walking away.

The most recent significant news is the progress of TiSA, one of TTIP’s sister treaties. The European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out its position with regard to TiSA or to give it its full name: the Trade in Services Agreement.

So, to provide some background: what is TiSA? Well, it is currently being negotiated by 23 members of the World Trade Organisation, including the EU, and will span the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans encompassing a breath-taking 70% of all world trade in services.

The potential rewards for getting such a deal right are vast, yet the risks are on an equally daunting scale. 

TiSA aims to open service contracts in every signatory’s country to each other.  As in the case of TTIP, some very carefully worded opt-outs will be required in order to protect public services. Notably the NHS will require exempting but all sections of government must be protected.  The Scottish Parliament must maintain the right to produce legislation in the interests of the people of Scotland without legal impediment.

As in the case of TTIP, the European Parliament will eventually vote on the final text of TiSA but this week the Parliament set out its position in the Reding Report. This is the equivalent to the Lange Report for TTIP that was voted on last summer.

I regret that it was a slightly missed opportunity but I’ll start with the good news. Firstly, the report demands the exclusion of all public services (including healthcare) from the negotiations. However, during the votes, myself and our group advocated a set of amendments that would have ensured any final vote would have been based on these criteria but, since these were defeated, the report is toothless.

This is disappointing but despite voting against the report I must confess, it is better than the Lange report on TTIP. I will, of course, continue to monitor TiSA and keep you all up to date as things develop.

Returning to TTIP itself, there was also some good news over the Christmas break.

The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is one of the key concerns I have with TTIP. I have long said that I simply do not see why it is necessary for corporations to have a different set of rules to the general law, particularly since we are talking about two of the most advanced legal systems in the world.

One of the most controversial ISDS cases has been between Philip Morris and the Australian government under Australia’s bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong. Many of you will know of this case but the key issue was that a tobacco company was attempting to sue the Australian government for introducing mandatory cigarette plain packaging legislation to improve public health.

I’m delighted to say that the case was dismissed.

Clearly this is welcome news but it still illustrates the problem with ISDS style systems. Even if a case such as this is thrown out, it does not prevent companies tying up health policy in the courts. If anything, that other governments have been waiting on this outcome before pursuing similar policies shows that ISDS (or as it is now being proposed, the Investment Court System (ICS)) is completely unacceptable.

The next round of negotiations will take place on 22 February in Brussels and, as ever, I will be playing close attention and updating you with any developments.