It’s largely off the front pages and out of the headlines, but the secretive negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP) will change trade between the EU and the US, potentially permanently.
As the general election approaches, Labour must make its position on TTIP clear. The party must insist that TTIP has to improve trade and not lower government or public services standards. This requires opposing the inclusion of Investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS), which would allow companies to sue governments in secretive courts if they do something such as pass a law which infringes on their economic activities.
ISDS would allow tobacco and cigarette companies to sue governments for passing laws to discourage smoking. Philip Morris, a cigarette company, is currently taking such a case against the Australian government over the introduction of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011. Whilst this case is ongoing, in an attempt to deter other’s from following Australia’s example, Philip Morris have also made various noises about taking similar cases against the UK and Ireland amongst others should they bring in similar laws.
ISDS has the potential to be a concern for any government when considering issues such as environmental legislation, workers’ rights and health legislation. Whilst American negotiators are pushing to retain ISDS it has proved controversial and the French government has already stated that will not support the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP. The Labour party also needs to come out with an unequivocal statement that it will not support the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP. This can make a difference; following pressure the EU postponed any negotiations regarding ISDS and opened the subject up to public consultation, whereupon they received over 150,000 submissions.
International politics and trade were very different back in in 1959 when ISDS first appeared, between Germany and Pakistan. The world was recovering from a tumultuous and violent first half of the century and investors were hardly over-reacting if they were nervous about the stability international investment. This is less necessary in the modern world, where international trade ties countries together and violent hostilties or products banned for spurious reasons are all but unheard of between the EU and the US. There is international precedent for refusing to engage in ISDS without destroying the economy. Brazil, for example, refuses to participate in trade deals which include ISDS yet it has not been shunned and receives foreign investment none the less.
Quite apart from ISDS, Labour must also take a tough stance on the total lack of transparency over TTIP negotiations, which are being carried out largely in secret by EU and US representatives. For a start, Labour can address is this this by backing TUC recommendations that, where practicable, negotiation documents should be made available to the public. This should begin with a commitment from Labour to ensure that their documents are published. An independent commission or arbitrator would be able to decide what was not practicable.
Most of all, Labour needs to take a clear, substantive stand on TTIP which addresses all the aspects of concern. This should be on an easy to find page on the party’s website, so that those who are interested can find an up to date policy in one place rather than trawling through the internet and finding scraps of quotes or articles, many of which are out of date.
Transparency is vital to ensuring that the deal is negotiated with the public’s best interests at heart rather than that of the political or business elite or, as Labour might say, ‘ for the many, not the few’. As a part of this Labour should also push for TTIP to be approved by national parliaments in the EU before it is approved. This will particularly allow countries with a culture for holding referendums on such issues to have a say in this matter.
International trade treaties can have a positive effect, but Labour must push for higher standards and a better treaty which cannot harm public services or hold governments to ransom.