In the lead-up to the Backbench debate on TTIP, I contacted Ben Bradshaw MP and declared candidates about their views.
Here’s Ben’s response:
Thanks for contacting me about the backbench debate on TTIP initiated by my Labour colleague, Geraint Davies, in Parliament recently.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend it myself, but a number of my Labour colleagues did and spoke in support of Geraint’s motion.
Being a backbench debate, the motion was not voted on and the debate has no legislative or policy effect, but was a useful opportunity for our concerns about TTIP to beaired.
The Labour Party supports trade agreements, which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers, but we have some serious concerns about elements of these proposals as they stand that need to be addressed.
TTIP would be an important trade agreement between the US, the world’s largest economy and the EU, the world’s largest single market and has the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are the UKs’ most important markets. That’s why we support the principles behind these negotiations and recognise that more and better trade is good for the UK.
Reducing barriers could, for example, help our automotive and aerospace industries export more to the US, where there are regulations inhibiting this and these negotiations could remove.
However, we have four main areas of concern:
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 should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement but the UK Government hasn’t.
Labour will continue to press for the necessary exemption.
Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDS):
This is a dispute mechanism, commonly 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.
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, even though 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 and safeguards standards.
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.
As I’m sure you realise, the EU is responsible for international trade negotiations. A number of other EU countries and Labour’s sister parties in other EU countries share our concerns. These need to be reflected to secure any agreement and will need to be taken on board by the incoming new EU trade Commissioner.
The negotiations on TTIP are now expected to last into next year, so we have an opportunity, if a Labour Government is elected in May, to ensure that the concerns we have, which are being ignored by the current Government, are taken on board.
With very best wishes,
Ben Bradshaw MP