Lots of constituents have contacted me about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is the response I have sent out to people who have contacted me which sets out my views and which I hope you will find useful:
I believe that any threat to the NHS or to the freedom of Governments to make decisions and pass laws on public services would be totally unacceptable. That’s why Labour has called for the NHS and public services to be excluded from any final TTIP agreement. We have also raised concerns about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), because we must ensure that the right of Governments to legislate for their public policy objectives is effectively protected in dispute resolution mechanisms. Indeed, because of concerns raised on this issue, the European Commission suspended negotiations on ISDS for a public consultation which ran from 27 March to 13 July 2014, and to which 149,000 responses were received (with over a third coming from the UK). Resulting from the consultation the new incoming EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is responsible for TTIP, has suggested abandoning or substantially changing the ISDS provisions.
However I also think it’s important that the concerns around TTIP don’t inadvertently play into the hands of the Tory anti-EU agenda, or fuel the campaign to leave the EU. This would weaken workers’ rights and other benefits which have been secured through, and are guaranteed by, our membership of the EU. I also think that removing barriers to trade within the EU has been positive for all member states, and that opening up exports to the US could play a helpful role in rebalancing our economy away from over-dependence on financial services. Key sectors like manufacturing could benefit if exporting to the US is made easier which would help create more highly skilled and better paid jobs.
I also believe it’s essential that we don’t let the Tories off the hook on privatisation of the NHS, by creating the idea that TTIP is the main threat to the NHS. It is this Government’s Health and Social Care Act, which I voted against and Labour pledged to repeal at the last election, that has opened up the door to wide scale privatisation and fragmentation of our health service. Due to the decisions of this Government, US companies (such as HCA International) already can and do run NHS services, and already have the right to challenge Government decisions. Even if the NHS and public services are not excluded TTIP in itself won’t lead to further privatisation. That will remain the decision of domestic governments and it is those decisions we must challenge. If public services are tendered out, US companies compete for contracts alongside companies in the 28 EU countries. For me, the real issue is about stopping the privatisation of our services, not the national origin of a private company running them once they have been opened up. German or Dutch healthcare company will be as interested in making profit out of the NHS as a US company would. There’s real concern from healthcare professionals about what’s happening with the NHS and Labour would have halted the forced privatisation of the NHS if we had won the election last year.
As I have pointed out, the Investor to State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in TTIP is already being challenged by Labour and others within the EU. Along with other MPs, I met with the former Business Secretary Vince Cable to press concerns on TTIP, and much of our discussion focused on the ISDS provisions. Companies can already launch legal action against Governments following policy changes under the UK’s existing bilateral trade agreements which make provision for ISDS and regulate them. For example, under existing agreements, Philip Morris, a US tobacco firm, is threatening to sue the UK Government over standardised cigarette packaging (as it is currently doing against Australia -see here).
It is also important to remember that it’s not a foregone conclusion that companies win their legal action when they challenge government decisions through ISDS provisions. For example, it’s been widely reported how the Dutch private health care company Achmea successfully sued Slovakia in 2006 after the Slovak government overturned extensive liberalisation of their health insurance market. However, what isn’t often reported is that Achmea tried to sue Slovakia again last year but lost the case and had to pay legal damages to Slovakia. Both actions took place before TTIP and under a Slovak-Dutch bilateral trade agreement.
What is essential when it comes to ISDS is that hearings and rulings cannot be shrouded in secrecy. The public have a right to know about these disputes and are rightly concerned about closed-door agreements so I welcome the fact that, because of public concern, the European Commission launched the public consultation (see here) that I mentioned earlier, and suspended negotiations on the ISDS, pending consideration of the results. Additionally, in this letter from one of the EU negotiators to Labour MP John Healey, specifically addressing concerns about NHS privatisation, the EU representative makes a clear commitment that TTIP will be more transparent and accountable than existing treaties between the UK (or other EU countries) and the US.
Clearly there are still a lot of issues to resolve in the TTIP negotiations which is why it’s essential that the negotiations are open and transparent and take into account public opinion and critical voices. I have met with War on Want to discuss TTIP, and the former Business Secretary Vince Cable told me his Department is having regular meetings with a forum of charities and interested non-governmental organisations, like Friends of the Earth and War on Want, to keep them updated on negotiations and hear their views, which I think is positive.
Finally, I share the concerns that there’s been a lack of debate in the media and in Parliament about TTIP and its implications. Because of the importance of getting this right, in the last Parliament I proposed to colleagues on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of which I’m a member, that we take evidence on TTIP and our report, which you can see here, addressed many of your concerns and was widely welcomed by NGOs.