Opinion: Thoughts on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP)

While negotiations are continuing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP) it is hard to know whether the outcome will be good or bad. As far as I can see, there are arguments for and against it, so I am feeling the need to keep an open mind.

The arguments in favour boil down to increased trade and economic stability. This is important because the growth of China, India and Brazil will put pressure on Europe and America: at 1.37Bn people, China has an appreciably larger population than the EU (500 million) and USA (320 million) together. The collapse of the Doha trade talks also increase the risk of tarifs and trade barriers between the EU and USA. The hope is that, at the very least, TTIP will counteract this, and at best, it will enhance our economic stability and competitiveness by improving ties between the EU and USA. There are predictions that this will boost the British economy by between four and ten billion pounds annually.

The European commission has been suggesting that many of the stories circulating about TTIP are exaggerated or wrong and is keen to reassure people that European concerns around health. Safety, rights at work, privacy, financial security and environment will be protected. Their information on this starts here.

Against this I am very conscious of the amazing value of the NHS, and can see how it could be seen, in some quarters as anti-competitive, because it is large enough to look like a monopoly. This seems to be the reason for my inbox as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate receiving many emails concerned that TTIP could undermine the NHS. Against that, though one of the most important principles of the NHS is that care is free at the point of delivery, it has had an internal market, and been buying services in from elsewhere for many years.

Undermining the NHS would be a tragedy. My own travels in parts of the world without universal healthcare make me profoundly grateful for the NHS and deeply opposed to anything that undermines it. Nick Clegg made a statement late last autumn nwhich clarifies his opposition to any distortion of TTIP that undermines the NHS, which seems an eminently wise position:

I would never endorse TTIP, which is a big new deal which is being negotiated between Europe and America, unless it was absolutely crystal clear that we are allowed to do exactly what we want with our public services, with our cherished NHS, without being undermined by TTIP.

There’s some further re-assurance in that Nick also told the Lib Dem Spring Conference that he had received a letter from the European Commission leading on these negotiations, Cecelia Malmstrom, confirming that there is nothing in TTIP which could force a future British government to outsource or privatise any part of the NHS.

I have also had emails from people concerned that the proposed “Investor State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) arrangement could end up supporting the needs of big business in a way that is profoundly anti-competitive. The European Commission seems to have done a good job in standing up to the likes of Microsoft, and I am hopeful that what will emerge from the discussion will be something wise which doesn’t run aground on this.

My own thinking keeps coming back to the global context. I realise that people do find globalisation threatening, and it can be tempting to ignore it, but closer ties between the EU and America do give us more weight. Real concerns need to be taken into account in the negotiations, but it would be very unfortunate if misplaced concerns if in thirty years time, the major economic decisions are being set in places over which we have little influence, such as Beijing, where TTIP offers us a chance to work with others to continue to shape our destiny.

I’m hoping that Liberal Democrats in Parliament after May 7 – and hopefully in government – will be in a position to push for TTIP to be in the interests of the peoples of Europe.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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32 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 26th Mar '15 - 10:32am

    “Against this I am very conscious of the amazing value of the NHS, and can see how it could be seen, in some quarters as anti-competitive, because it is large enough to look like a monopoly. This seems to be the reason for my inbox as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate receiving many emails concerned that TTIP could undermine the NHS.”

    No, the reason your inbox is flooded with e mails is a mendacious campaign by 38 degrees which has succeeded in deceiving people that the NHS is at risk, despite public services being specifically excluded.

  • Thanks for this contribution, Mark. The problem for me, and for many campaigners who have been actively opposing TTIP, is that there is not sufficient information about it, and the negotiation between the US and the EU are being conducted in such a secretive way. Your reassurances sound hollow to ears that do not trust either the US or the EU to act in the best interest of the people of Europe, never mind the people of Britain. And why should we trust them? The history of this last decade has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that both the US and the EU have the interests of big capital, big companies, big banks at the top of the list. We, the people, the poor and the middle classes, have been mercilessly squeezed so that big “investment” banks could continue to thrive and pay their gamblers huge salary and even greater bonuses. The risk that TTIP will only add power to the elbow of the same large multinational corporations is just too high. As for our “cherished NHS”, as you say, it is already being sold off, piece by piece, and it will continue to be unless the Health and Social Care act is repealed, and fast. What chance of that happening in the next parliament? Have we put it in our election manifesto? Not to my knowledge.

  • Mark in summing up his own thinking says “closer ties between the EU and America do give us more weight.” But who are the “we” in this case, because it won’t be all the people in the US and the EU? Is it a “we” that the Lib Dems should be on the side of?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 26th Mar '15 - 11:25am

    Anna, and others who complain about the lack of information / secrecy – have you actually looked for some documents? There are many more than you can shake a stick at here http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/documents-and-events/index_en.htm#_documents

    And there are an equally large number available from the US Trade Representative website.

    Assuming you have not read all of those, perhaps once you have done so could come back and tell us what else in particular you would like to know from the Commission?

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Mar '15 - 11:26am

    Mark Argent, this is a very good article. It respects those who are concerned on both sides of the argument.

    I don’t trust 38 degrees’s campaign against TTIP – they are currently scaremongering about NHS privatisation and scaremongering seems to be their favourite hobby.

    I’m open minded to TTIP, but a bit like Anna Beria above: I do not trust the EU to do a good job. I’m not anti EU, but recently they have just made the rich richer by boosting the stock market through quantitative easing. The stock markets are at record highs, they don’t need boosting!

    Anna’s point about trust is important, some fears about globalisation are not fears of competition, but fears of the odds getting unfairly stacked against us. As my recent new found saying goes “supply demand and lobbying”.

  • Stephen Campbell 26th Mar '15 - 1:45pm

    A good measure of whether one should support something or not is to gauge the effect it will have on people’s lives.

    So can the pro-TTIP people tell me what benefits this will have for working-class people such as myself? And, please, don’t say “cheaper food”. I’d rather pay a bit more for food than have our food standards lowered (“harmonised” in PR-speak) to American standards. Will TTIP give me greater job security, better pay and working conditions? Will TTIP get rid of zero-hours contracts? Will it usher in a better world where average people have more power and control over their lives, or will it usher in a world where undemocratic corporations wield even more power? Will it help protect Parliament as maker of our laws, or will it further erode democratic power? Will it help stop the corporate totalitarianism we seem to be heading for? Will it being greater transparency and openness in public life?

    Because, as I’ve said before, I can’t see any benefits to people such as myself. TTIP, from the looks of it, will mainly benefit global corporations and foreign investors who think they should have the right to sue governments when democracy doesn’t go their way.

    As an aside, I still find it particularly sad that the right of this party is pushing TTIP with an almost religious fervor. It’s not very dignified seeing opponents of TTIP being called names, not to mention watching LibDems defend the already powerful (not to mention undemocratic and unaccountable) such as corporations while easily brushing off the concerns of the powerless (people such as myself).

  • Stephen Campbell 26th Mar '15 - 1:50pm

    @Nick Thornsby:

    Why did it take so long for some of the documents to be released to the public? Why have MEPs who have seen the drafts of TTIP been sworn to secrecy? Why are the entirety of TTIP documents not available for us all to see, as befitting an open and democratic society we supposedly live in? Why has the whole negotiation process been shrouded in secrecy? Why are corporate lobbyists given such access to the corridors of power while people such as myself are lucky if our MP even bothers to write back to us?

  • George Potter 26th Mar '15 - 1:57pm

    @Stephen Campbell

    Because the negotiations are still underway and if you’re trying to get the best deal possible it’s not a good idea to expose all your redlines, negotiating positions and draft texts where the other side can see them. On top of that it’s very hard to have mature, well thought out provisions in a treaty if each and every tweak to the wording is subject to the whims of 24/7 news cycles and pressure groups eager to take things out of context.

    Every single treaty ever signed by any country has been negotiated in secret – what matters is that when the treaty is written it will need to be approved by the democratically elected Congress in the US and the democratically elected European Parliament in the EU. The latter, of course, has happily vetoed other treaties such as ACTA in the past.

    What on earth is so terrible about waiting to see the final document, scrutinising it and then making up your mind whether to support or oppose it?

    I note that no one complained about the 34 other EU free trade agreements being negotiated in secret.

    You might as well complain that government cabinet meetings aren’t published in full – after all, it’s the exact same process where things are discussed in secret but then subject to democratic approval by a parliament.

  • George Potter 26th Mar '15 - 2:10pm

    And for the record, TTIP will lead to the reduction of trade barriers, especially regulatory ones. That means cheaper imports and more exports. That means more money in economies on both sides of the Atlantic. That means improvements in living standards and more money in people’s pockets.

    It’s impossible to say exactly how much any given individual will benefit but it’s pretty well established that more trade means more wealth to go around and that, when we’re talking about trade between developed economies, the poor benefit no less from this extra wealth than anyone else.

    It means, for instance, that cars manufactured in the UK can be sold to the US more easily – and the same with other products manufactured in the UK. That means more jobs in those industries and pay rises which in turn means more jobs created by the new workers and existing workers spending their pay.

    It’s the same reason why membership of the EU is so valuable – by being in an area without trade restrictions and minimised trade barriers and harmonised regulations the UK economy is much wealthier than it would be if we left the EU.

    TTIP won’t reduce our food quality standards but it won’t eliminate zero hour contracts and reduce job insecurity either. That’s because it’s a trade deal not a fix for all society’s ills.

    It does mean that if you lose your job you’ll find it slightly easier to find another one. It does mean that consumer protection standards will be preserved. It does mean that a huge free trade area will be under the oversight of democratically elected representatives. It does mean that the power of governments to regulate public services and to protect the public interest will not be diminished.

    And, if it has to be put very simply, globalisation is inevitable and irreversible. We have companies which are wealthier than entire countries at the moment. A single government can’t hope to stand up against them or control them. But countries working together have a combined clout big enough to hold the markets in check and to regulate them. The EU is one such combination of countries. Deals which help the big blocs of the world, like the EU and like the US, to integrate more closely and set the terms of trade between them, are also steps towards giving those blocs more powers to hold companies and the markets in check.

    If you want to be at the mercy of supernationals then you should support an isolationist UK trying to hide behind ineffective protectionist trade barriers. If you want to live in a country where markets are made to work for the benefit of everyone then you need the UK in an EU which supports and promotes free trade. It’s as simple as that.

    And, for the record, I’m a left winger. I’m just not economically illiterate.

  • I agree with Eddie Sammon, this is a good article that respectfully tries to layout the concerns on both sides of the argument.

    One of the things I find irritating is that given how much effort that has been put into drafting ‘TTIP’ is that still we have a very poor rationale for it. Until there is clarity over what exactly TTIP is addressing, I see no value to it and thus consider it to be dangerous as it will increase the “attack surface” by which organisations can avoid the law.

  • Stephen Campbell

    Unfortunately the “what will it do for me” is hard to gague until the negotiation is finished and we can see the final documents. There are interim documents and that is a positive but I for one will reserve my judgement until there is a final set to review.

    The Pro and Anti camps come across as religious fanatics holding their positions regardless of having a final position to actually discuss.

    As to how great the benefits will be they will not be nearly as great as an agreement with developing nations, that would actually see cheaper food (through food being better allocated to climate which the current arrangements don’t allow) and the faster development of poor countries which would then result in greater markets for UK producers.

    The “Anti” side seem to see nefarious forces every where who are trying to crush normal peoepl but the “pro” side don’t seem to have considered the chance for negotiations to result in significant unforeseen consequences.

    One thing we could see (though I’m not expecting it) would be a different form of tribunal which is more open and could act as a model for the other trade agreements adding transparency and consistency. But I don’t see anyone looking for what could be made to improve things, simply those who want to throw rocks and those who just defend regardless.

  • George Potter 26th Mar '15 - 4:34pm

    @Roland

    The rationale is pretty clear and if you want to find out the reasons for TTIP then google is very much your friend.

    But, in brief, the reasons are that, at present, trade between the EU and the US is hindered by tariffs and red tape which often duplicates the same work unnecessarily. By eliminating tariffs and by agreeing that say, passing an electrical safety test for a kettle in the EU means you don’t have to take the US version of that electrical safety test, it’s easier for businesses in the EU to do business in the US and vice versa which should increase trade between the two and make both the EU and the US wealthier.

  • @George – “The rationale is pretty clear and if you want to find out the reasons for TTIP then google is very much your friend.”

    Thankyou George for demonstrating so clearly your total lack of any real knowledge on the need for TTIP!
    The fact that you has asked me to go and look, shows that you don’t in fact know of a single real tangible advantage that TTIP would deliver!

    I’m not interested in basic PPE motherhood and apple pie statements. Having been involved in the sale of UK developed products in the US and imported US developed products over several decades, I’m interested in knowing what TTIP will deliver in real-terms, because in my experience the biggest hurdle to EU trade with the US isn’t imaginary tariffs and red tape.

  • TTIP is essential to protect our economy in the long term. It will lead to more trade, more jobs and more foreign investment, which can only be good things.

    The anti’s are either socialists or nationalists, who want to take Britain back to the dark days of nationalised industries, Enoch Powell, union power, and military might. Both ideologies have failed, and globalisation, privatisation and deregulation are the only games in town. Let’s work with multinationals rather than hinder them. Opposing TTIP and ISDS is as backward as opposing free movement, gay rights and human rights.

  • Philip Thomas 26th Mar '15 - 9:22pm

    @Stimpson

    Really? “Life liberty and the pursuit of damages from national governments” was it? ISDS is not a fundamental right, nor should it be.

  • George Potter 26th Mar '15 - 9:34pm

    @Roland

    Actually I just gave you a case for the rationale for TTIP. The fact that I suggested you use google is because your demand to be spoonfed just shows how little you’ve bothered to look into the topic.

    But since googling is apparently too much effort for you, here’s a starting point:

    http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/about-ttip/questions-and-answers/index_en.htm

  • George Potter 26th Mar '15 - 9:36pm

    And to quote just one section from that link as an example:

    “EU exports to the US are mostly high-value products, like cheese, hams, wine, olive oil, spirits, and chocolate. High tariffs at US customs – up to 30% – make some of these hard for Americans to afford – and difficult for European farmers and firms to export.

    The US also faces customs tariffs in the EU on basic products like maize, soya beans, and animal feed. This in turn raises costs for European farmers and food manufacturers.

    TTIP would lower these customs duties – or get rid of them altogether

    US approval procedures and red tape can also make it very difficult for EU exporters. At the moment, many apples and pears sold in Europe are effectively banned in the US.”

  • Philip Thomas 26th Mar '15 - 10:22pm

    I understand the benefits of free trade. I don’t understand the benefits of allowing foreign investors to sue the government- in practice to force higher taxes and spending cuts on the local population. Truly rogue governments will just ignore the treaty anyway, so it doesn’t really provide protection for investors- all it does is allow multinational coporations an undemocratic voice in government policy (to an even greater extent than they already have). Big Tobacco suing Uruguay for making the heath risks of smoking clearer seems an apt example of the problem.

  • @George – Thanks for providing a little more substance to your case, that is accessible to those who don’t have the time to endlessly search the internet. Also it adds substance to the discussion here, as it helps to move it away from a simple: free trade is good, ISDS is bad…

    What I find concerning is that the example you quote is the only one given in the reference you give. Given the emphasis has been on becoming a knowledge economy, it is surely worrying that the main example that can be put forward is farm produce (which whilst important is a relatively small proportion of EU economic activity) – where EU restrictions owe more to the CAP aim of protecting EU farmers, with similar considerations being applied on the US side. I therefore wonder whether part of the gun-ho attitude towards TTIP we see in the UK is more to do with beating up the EU than actually working in the common European interest…

  • A good example of investor-state dispute systems at work is when Russia tried – illegally – to nationalise the otherwise successful BP-Rosneft joint venture, largely as a cynical political move against the west, without compensating BP in any way. In this case, Russia was forced to pay the going rate for the concern to BP, rather than just nicking it and running. Effectively, it ensured the contract, freely entered into, was upheld.

    A key liberal concern surely has to do with restricting the right of governments to act unilaterally, disregarding standing agreements without consent, to the detriment of others, be they corporations in the common or strict sense, or individuals. Unless one is prepared to argue that some government interventions are OK and others not (presumably, fine if we do them for these reasons, but not fine if the Russians do them for theirs; a slippery slope indeed), then some form of ISDS is surely needed. In this case it is drawing from agreements already in force and working well to international standards, like the example I cited above. It is surely common sense.

    Now, there is an argument to be had about the rights of governments to act unilaterally, but many of the arguments in favour become very shaky when held to standards most liberals would deem acceptable. For my part, I am neutral about TTIP, but I would much rather argue the facts, as Mark does in this very well-considered article, than reject it out of hand. I certainly think the 38 Degrees campaign is just as cynical as it is accusing TTIP of being…

  • I am curious as to how many more pro-TTIP articles LDV is going to run. And what the proportion of pro- to anti- articles is.

    Good points, Philip Thomas. I remain also unconvinced about this free market worshipping obsession with giving a business the same rights as a human being. And here come the insults…

  • @George – a query as I didn’t get intimately involved in consumer goods testing such as electric kettle safety testing, I would of thought that many of these tests had now been harmonised, hence goods leave the factory in china/south east asia carrying a whole swarm of certifications having been tested locally by a recognised lab… Certainly with the IT product testing service we set up in the late 80’s a major component of the effort was establishing a small group/network of internationally recognised test lab’s and harmonised test suites, so manufacturers only had to test at one to achieve all the various certifications, because as you correctly note testing – particularly when your device repeatedly fails and is returned as a smouldering mass of overheated plastic and electrical components, can get expensive.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Mar '15 - 11:05pm

    Thanks Roland. I was going to say that I do see some merit in companies suing governments if they break contracts, but John Grout has given a good example above about nationalising without compensation.

    When people attack companies it hurts pension funds too, so the “us versus them” narrative isn’t accurate. Not to mention other examples.

  • Philip Thomas 27th Mar '15 - 8:24am

    So why no protection for domestic companies? Why only foreign companies? I think it is a multi-national plot, but I’m sure you have a less sinister explanation.

  • John Broggio 27th Mar '15 - 8:47am

    Thing is Eddie, it’s more than just being able to sue if a government tries to renege on a contract; companies have sued (successfully) under similar treaties because, for instance, a democratically elected government via dared to try & improve environmental standards for all companies operating in their jurisdiction.

    See http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-allowing-foreign-firms-to-sue-nations-hurts-trade-deals/2014/10/01/4b3725b0-4964-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html for more on this and other examples.

  • Eddie, yes John Grout’s contribution was very good and a counter to the example I gave in a comment to a previous article where the UK government were able to (successfully) appeal against an arbitration decision.

    I think that we do need to evidence both sides, because in any agreement there will be winners and losers, understanding more about what is enabled and what is disabled, can only help to inform decision making.

    Also I don’t subscribe to the viewpoint that everything has to be kept secret until the negotiations have been concluded. But that might be because much of my negotiation style has been heavily influenced by the Harvard Negotiation Project, where having opening positions (points of agreement, points of disagreement etc.) out in the open helps build trust etc. yes you do keep your actual negotiating position secret ie. your game plan, what you initially bid and what you are prepared to finally accept.

  • Philip Thomas 29th Mar '15 - 7:29pm

    TTIP came up on the door step today. I totally fudged the issue (as I wasn’t sure of our ppc’s views) by saying we had supported the negotiations but would make a decision once the final proposals were revealed.

    Tallked to the ppc afterwards. He had some pretty good arguments for TTIP including re the ICDS- the latter being not an anti-British measure as British law already protects foreign investors. I am still on the fence but beginning to lean towards the pro-TTIP side!

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th Mar '15 - 7:53pm

    Philip, stick with your gut reaction.

    All I can say is that your personal judgement – as a Liberal and as an individual exercising the precautionary principle – was somewhat better than that of your parliamentary candidate.

  • Colleagues might want to look at CETA, the Canadian version of TTIP, where negotiations have concluded. The draft treaty is currently being examined by the European Conmission legal department before it goes to the Council and EP. No one seems bothered about the impact of this treaty, which will the basis of TTIP. Interesting.

  • As I was responding on another thread the troublesome thought occurred to me that given TTIP is a treaty and a treaty that is negotiated by the EU en bloc, could TTIP be used as a justification for an EU referendum (in the event of treaty change that takes powers away from the UK)?

  • nigel hunter 18th Jun '15 - 1:29am

    Have individual US States got different rules on what they allow to be imported? If so have these rules been taken into consideration in the negotiations?

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