TTIP chaos in Strasbourg

ttip_-_corporate_guy

On the evening of the 9th of June the EU Parliament decided to postpone a crucial plenary vote on the TTIP resolution a day before the vote was to occur.  I was in Strasbourg representing Students Against TTIP in the Europe-wide campaign against the toxic trade deal when this snap decision occurred.  Myself and other activists from across Europe had already begun planning our action for the morning of the vote when we heard the surprising news: that once again another spanner had been thrown in the works of the great whirring machine that is TTIP.

The plenary vote that was supposed to take place was to be on a series of amendments to the TTIP resolution that was voted on in late May this year.  Hundreds of amendments were submitted, some focusing on the inclusion of public services in the trade deal, some on food and agriculture regulations, and a few key amendments concerned the ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) clause—a particularly controversial part of TTIP that gives corporations the right to sue governments for any perceived loss of future profit.  Similar ISDS clauses have been included in past trade deals, ultimately undermining state sovereignty and the ability of governments to regulate corporations—inevitably leading to private profits reigning supreme over public good.

The fact that so many amendments had been submitted for the resolution showed just how decisive the issue of TTIP had become in European Parliament, something that would have not occurred if it weren’t for the dedicated effort of European activists and campaigners who have brought TTIP, a trade deal that could have easily passed by in obscurity, to light—as made evident by a recent petition against TTIP that has already received two million signatures (and still counting)!

However it wasn’t just the number of amendments that led to the decision to postpone the plenary vote, as some sources have suggested; there have also been deep divisions amongst the MEPs, especially in the Socialists and Democrats group, regarding TTIP and ISDS.  It seemed like it was impossible to form a united block, or maybe there was enough discordance that those who were pro-TTIP, and specifically pro-ISDS, were concerned that the plenary vote would not turn out to their liking.  The UK Labour party had a predominantly anti-ISDS stance, as stated by North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling in a recent video interview, and this could have led to a rift in the Socialists and Democrats block, thus delaying the vote.  Theories have been flying around left, right and centre, and as a fledgling activist and outsider to the inner workings of European Parliament the entire process leading up to postponement of the vote seems labyrinthine to me, but what does seem clear is TTIP has undeniably become a very contentious issue.

This postponement is a small victory for those who are fighting against TTIP, and highlights just how divisive it is despite the sheer amount of lobbying power and money that has gone into the attempt to actualise it.  We may have won, or at least not lost, this battle, but the war between private interests of corporations and the public interests of the people still wages on. TTIP is just the tip of the iceberg.

Written by Khinezar Tint, member of Stop TTIP MCR and Students Against TTIP in association with Global Justice Now

Manchester Zombies Take Over the Arndale in TTIP Protest

The Stop TTIP Manchester protestors dropped warning signs in the Arndale Centre following the zombie flashmob. Photo: Stop TTIP MCR @Facebook.

Stop TTIP Manchester rallied over 80 zombie protestors to raise awareness of the trade deal over negotiations which were held in Washington DC last week. The action was one of more than 500 public demonstrations across the globe against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The zombies, complete with TTIP blindfolds, stumbled through the area of the Arndale Centre outside of the Next department store, attracting large crowds whilst being fed chlorinated chicken before playing dead. A stop TTIP chant followed, whilst a banner was dropped from the floor above reading ‘Time is ticking for TTIP’.

The stunt was co-ordinated by local activist group Stop TTIP MCR that have become part of a global movement of opposition against the trade deal. Hilda Palmer, a member of Stop TTIP MCR, said: “TTIP is fast-track deregulation to hell. It’s a huge threat to our democratic ability to protect health, safety, food and environmental standards—ultimately, giving power to corporations to do what they like.”

TTIP is proving to be one of the most controversial pieces of legislation that the European Commission has yet attempted to pass, with critics denouncing the proposal as giving international corporations unprecedented power, placing the NHS and other public services at risk of privatisation.

The treaty would allow governments to be sued by corporations if their laws or policies damaged the company’s profits. Yet the European Commission’s public consultations in regards to TTIP, published this January, have shown that 97 per cent of those consulted opposed the proposal.

Guy Taylor, Trade Campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “Election time is a reminder for what a huge threat TTIP would be for our parliamentary democracy. Politicians promise so much to ordinary people in the UK, but what they would be able to do would be dramatically limited if TTIP was implemented and corporate interests brought to bear on so many decisions of government.

“We need to ensure that our democratically elected officials are free to act in the interests of the people they serve, rather than in the interests of corporate profits. Today’s action in Manchester is one of many happening around the UK, the EU and globally. We’ve signed petitions, lobbied and briefed MPs and MEPs, we’ve tried everything we can to stop TTIP, and they ignore us.

“Whenever we meet ordinary people they oppose TTIP, it is a charter for corporate rights at the expense of ordinary people. We are in the process of putting together a huge unstoppable campaign; today is part of that process. Watch us—or better still join us.”

At present over 1.6 million Europeans have signed a self-organised European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) saying ‘no’ to TTIP. Manchester has been a focal point for the national campaign after hosting the ‘TTIP: Building the Fightback’ conference as part of the War on Want Annual General Meeting on the 21st of March. Here, Jeronim Capaldo from Tutts University outlined his research predicting a loss of at least one million jobs across the region and minimal gains in real terms.

John Hilary, the Executive Director of War on Want, who has been dubbed the TTIP Terminator, said: “Politicians are fully aware of people’s outrage over TTIP and the other free trade deals being foisted by the EU.

“Despite the growing call to abandon the TTIP negotiations altogether, all three main UK political parties have this week published manifesto pledges backing the deal. The global day of action should make them rethink their support for such a blatant assault on our democratic rights.”

The European Citizen’s Initiative against TTIP can be found here.

Lib Dems are failing to stand up for the NHS

The Liberal Democrats are displaying a dangerous disregard for the impact that TTIP will have on our health system. Despite promising to stand up for the NHS there is no sign of any protection in the documents that have been seen so far, but the Lib Dems just ask us to trust them to protect us. A recent leak of a 103 page secret document that shows what the EU have asked to be excluded from the deal reveals that there is no specific exclusion of the NHS. Instead it says:

“The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all health services which receive public funding or State support in any form”.

This is ambiguous language that could open the door to a decision being made by the government to allow the sell off of the NHS, unless this language is tightened up we would have no protection against this happening. This decision to accept this ambiguous word is deliberate tactic by governments to allow mass privatisation without attracting too much attention. The NHS is a huge market opportunity, so you can bet they are pouring money into making sure this is ambigously worded, so that if we don’t let corporations into the NHS, they can sue the UK for damaging their profits. In research into who lobbies most on TTIP, big pharma was found to be one of the biggest (see the Excel spreadsheet). Any MP who says they are standing up for the NHS needs to commit to blocking TTIP unless wording around protecting the NHS is explicit, otherwise their claims are meaningless. Once privatised, TTIP essentially makes it impossible to re-nationalise the NHS. If TTIP sells off our NHS, it may be lost forever. One huge area that is not mentioned in his response is the area of drug prices. Companies that develop drugs have a certain period of time where they have exclusive rights to develop the drug. When the patent expires any company can develop and sell the drugs, meaning generic cheap durgs become available. These cheaper drugs save a huge number of lives. However there are differences in patent laws in the EU and US – standardising these will have an impact on the availability of low cost medicine, and this could costs suddenly soar, people can no longer afford them, and would force the NHS to potentially spend massive amounts to keep using the same drugs as it is now. Even scarier is that since TTIP will be used a standard with which other trade deals are benchmarked, future deals with developing countries could include patent restrictions that price poor nations out from life saving drugs, and could cost huge numbers of lives. That radical organisation Stop AIDS has released a document urging people to say no to TTIP. They say that TTIP is a “question of life and death”. At a recent talk from John Hilary, he explained that the Lib Dems are the biggest supporters of TTIP, ideological believers in the mantra that “free trade fixes everything”. John met with Vince cable to explain that ISDS would mean corporations could sue governments for billions through secret decisions made by unelected officials. But Vince Cable just repeated his mantra about free trade, as if something that encouraged free trade could never possibly have a negative impact, and therefore could not be criticised. The facts do not agree. The Lib Dems need to overcome their infatuation with a free markets, because their ideas are disconnected from devastating reality that free trade deals damage our world. People do not want any more market liberalisation, people want the things they love to be protected. The full message from Mark Hunter: Will you stop TTIP? Thank you for your email regarding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations and any potential impact on the NHS. From the outset I would like to reassure you that TTIP will not have any negative impact on the NHS, and I would never support it if it did. TTIP is being designed to bring significant benefits to individuals and businesses by removing as many unnecessary barriers as possible, much in the same way as the EU Single Market has done over the past few decades. If the deal does not deliver the objectives we in the EU have demanded such as boosting jobs and the economy, or challenges the values, standards and principles we have developed and hold dear here in the UK, then we will withhold our consent as a country and TTIP will go no further. What TTIP is absolutely not about is reducing standards of public services. Neither the EU nor the US are looking to lower standards through the TTIP process and we have not authorised the EU to agree to anything in TTIP that would do that. The European Commission has been clear that it is not seeking to privatise publicly run services through this or any other trade agreement and that they will uphold high European standards of environmental, health and consumer protection. I know some people are worried about the potential impact on the NHS. Far from putting the NHS in danger, the TTIP negotiations have the potential to actually benefit NHS users through extra collaboration across the pharmaceutical and life science sectors. There will be no change in access to the NHS for private providers and there will be no change to the principle that access to NHS services is based on need, not ability to pay. The balance between public and private provision of public services will – quite rightly – continue to remain with national governments regardless of the progress of TTIP. We already have free trade agreements with many countries, as well as over 90 bilateral investment treaties. These haven’t damaged, altered the founding ethos, or in any way led to the privatisation of the NHS. If and when the EU is satisfied and reaches an agreement with the US in principle over TTIP, the final agreement will be sent to the 28 EU national parliaments which must unanimously agree to the final deal, as well as the European Parliament. The UK Parliament will receive the complete draft text of any TTIP agreement and will have the opportunity – in plenty of time – to scrutinise it through debates in both Houses of Parliament. This has been confirmed by Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable. I would like to reassure you that I will always resist any attempts by other parties to privatise the NHS. The Liberal Democrats have, as a party, been very clear that while in some cases we see a role for competition and the private sector inside the NHS – just as previous Governments have – we strongly believe that the NHS should always remain free and be based on patients’ needs, not on their ability to pay. It is these principles that I am hugely proud of – principles that form a very important part of the fairer society that the Liberal Democrats are seeking to build. The NHS is our most treasured public service and it must always be protected as well as improved. For that reason I very am pleased that on top of our current commitment to protect the NHS budget, if in Government again, the Liberal Democrats will be providing an extra £1 billion of real term funding for the NHS in the years 2016/17 and 2017/18. This would meet in full the extra investment that has been called for in proposals by NHS England’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens. Finally, can I just make clear I am always willing to meet with constituents to discuss this, or indeed any other issue. Yours sincerely Mark Hunter MP

Response from Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston

Good afternoon

Thank you for your recent email about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the free-trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the USA and the EU. I know that there are very strong concerns about some aspects of the TTIP and I have been passing on those concerns to my colleagues.

Firstly, with regard to the Backbench Business Debate taking place today, I‘m afraid I am unable to take part due to commitments in the constituency but I am really pleased that this important issue is being debated in Parliament and very strongly agree that the proposals require complete transparency and robust scrutiny at both UK and EU level.

I want to make clear first of all that the TTIP, a trade agreement between the US, the world’s largest economy, and the largest single market, the EU, really does have the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are the UKs’ most important markets today. Indeed, the US is the UK’s biggest export market and likewise the UK economy attracts a significant level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from across the Atlantic. That’s why Labour is supporting the basic principles behind these negotiations in recognition that more and better trade is good for the UK. From a US perspective the US unions are pressing to get EU levels of rights and protection in areas such as employment, so it has the potential to create equal measures across the Atlantic in solidarity with the US unions.

However, we do have four main areas of concern:

Public services: we share the concerns about the impact that TTIP could have on public services encouraging commercialisation, particularly in the NHS. Labour believes that the NHS and all public services need to be more, not less, integrated. That is why we believe that the NHS and other public services should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries are seeking to exempt such areas from the agreement but our Tory-led Government has not done this. Labour will continue to press for exemption.
Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDS): this is a dispute mechanism, already used in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. It allows investors to take proceedings against a government that is party to that trade agreement. If the government is found to be in breach of the obligations, the investor can receive redress. There is a major concern that the ISDS provisions could hinder our plans to reverse the privatisation of the NHS as it could result in those companies seeking compensation for loss of potential earnings. We believe that it is a right of governments to be able to legislate in the public interest and this should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. The European Commission has instigated several changes which have improved the transparency of the agreement, however it can and must go further. That is why Labour has been calling for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest, like the NHS or food safety regulations.
Standards: the benefits of any treaty must filter down to employees and consumers. Treaties can cement and even increase labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards. Concerns have been raised that TTIP could reduce standards, although the principle behind the treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. Labour will only support an agreement that avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth with robust safeguarded standards on environmental, labour, safety and consumer issues
Non-inclusion of the US States: A significant stumbling block has been raised that the US states are not covered by the agreement and therefore procurement will not opened up. This mean we could be at a disadvantage as our markets are opened up but not to the same extent in the US. This is important because significant procurement spend in the US is at the State level.
A number of worries similar to our own have been raised by other member states and these have to be reflected to secure agreement and taken on board by the new Trade Commissioner.

So, the TIIP is a trade deal as is the one the EU has just signed with Canada, Korea and Columbia. It’s also the same as the negotiations with India and other nations, but Labour will not support it at UK or EU level if ISDS is included and if the general exemption for public services is not included.

I hope this is helpful and outlines our position with regard to TTIP.

Kind regards

Kate Green

Kate Green MP
Labour Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston

Parliamentary office tel:
020 7219 7162
Constituency office tel:
0161 749 9120
http://www.kategreen.org

If you have a response from your MP on TTIP, please email it to stopTTIP.MCR@ gmail.com. Thanks!

Response from Mark Hunter MP for Stockport

MARK HUNTER MP

Dear Mr _____

Many thanks for contacting me regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) debate which took place In Parliament yesterday. After a largely well-informed and consensual debate, no vote took place. I fully agree that this important issue should be subject to close scrutiny in the UK Parliament: transparency on such matters is always important.

On balance, Liberal Democrats support the TTIP negotiations, which could be a once in a generation opportunity for the UK. Indeed, it is our party policy — agreed at Spring Conference last year – to ensure the success of TTIP and to pursue global and bilateral trade agreements.

TTIP is being designed to bring significant benefits to individuals and benefits by removing as many unnecessary barriers as possible, much in the same way as the EU Single Market has done over the past few decades.

First and foremost, it is important to realise that no trade or investment agreement has ever been negotiated by publishing in advance every piece of negotiating text to the general public and to do so would make any negotiation with other parties impossible. However, its important that the TTIP negotiations are as open as possible and that people get the chance to raise their concerns. The next formal negotiating round is about to get underway with even greater emphasis on transparency and scrutiny. The EU Trade Commissioner is making public more EU negotiating documents already available to MEPS and is classifying fewer documents as ‘restricted’.

MPs here in the UK have submitted many Parliamentary Questions about TTIP and there
have been two separate backbench business debates specifically on it. There has been a
House of Lords EU Committee Report on TTIP, as well as a House of Commons Scrutiny
Committee session which questioned the Minister responsible. TTIP was discussed in the
debate on the National Health Service Bill in November and the BIS Select Committee is
currently undertaking an inquiry into TTIP.

Constituency Office: Hillson House. 3 Gillbent Road, Cheadle Hulme,Cheadle, SK8 7LE
Tel: 0161 486 1359
Westminster Ofifice: Tel: 020 7219 3889
Email: mark.hunter.mp@parliarnent.uk
http://www.markhunter.org.uk

If you have any letters from MPs please send your responses to stopTTIP.MCR@ gmail.com so we can add these to our website. Thanks!

Public seminar on TTIP

The secret threat to democracyIT SHOULDN’T BE A SECRET… WHY NOT COME AND FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TTIP?

Standards in Multiple Authorities: revisiting the transatlantic divide

A Manchester Jean Monet Centre of Excellence seminar on the current trade negotiations between the EU and the USA.

2-3pm, 12th November at 2.2
Roscoe Building 2.2, University of Manchester

Speaker: Dr. Jean-Christophe Graz from the University of Lausanne

 

Manchester Policy Week debate on TTIP

LOGO7-9pm, Tuesday 4th November

CASH BONANZA OR RISKY DEAL? Panel Discussion and Public Debate

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) has provoked intense public debate in the UK and further afield. Advocates claim that it will significantly boost growth, while critics argue that it will lead to the erosion of hard-fought social and environmental protections. But who is right when it comes to TTIP?

Speakers: Polly Jones, Head of Policy and Campaigns, World Development Movement Clive George, Visiting Professor, College of Europe, Bruges and author of The Truth About Trade (Zed Books) Gabriel Siles-Brügge, Lecturer in Politics, The University of Manchester David Henig, Assistant Director, Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Venue: Nowgen Centre, 29 Grafton St, University of Manchester M13 9WU
Organisers: Politics Department
Contact: Louise Pemberton (louise.pemberton@manchester.ac.uk)
Please register HERE
Price: Free