Opinion: We should be alert to this threat to Europe!

There’s a new acronym doing the rounds, which I think is a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. And I fear the party may have fallen for the sheep’s clothing and not seen the wolf.

The acronym is TTIP. It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which sounds all well and good. And if all it’s doing is promoting free trade between Europe and America, fair enough. But the question we should all be asking is: at what cost?

TTIP has made its way into the election campaign solely as an adjunct to the NHS debate. There are fears that the TTIP agreement – still being negotiated (in secret) by EU and US trade negotiators – will threaten the state funding of medical services. Lib Dem candidates like me are advised by the party’s Policy Response unit to say that Vince Cable has been given several assurances that neither our ability to run the NHS nor our ability to protect the environment will be threatened.

But the threat is bigger than that. A few days ago, Germany’s environment agency UBA expressed serious concern that the EU’s position on the emerging TTIP could weaken environmental protection standards in Europe. It says Europe’s current proposals would breach the democratic principles at the heart of the EU by giving US companies the right to information about EU legislation before the European Parliament or European civil society groups get to hear about it. Lib Dems should be alarmed at this.

More than that, the UBA warns that the EU is threatening to allow a shift away from the precautionary principle to one that would require an environmental risk to be explicitly proven before any regulation could take place. This confirms the worries of NGOs that Europe is selling out to the lower standards prevalent in America.

One of the arguments used to steady the ship is that the TTIP agreement is still being negotiated. It is, albeit in secret, but there’s evidence that it’s already affecting EU policy.

It emerged last year that the USA’s trade representative and TTIP negotiator Michael Froman demanded – successfully – that the Americans were given a say on the revision of the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (see page 11 of this report). The directive, which limits emissions from fuel production, runs up to 2020, and as the TTIP would most likely be in place by then, the Americans have insisted on being consulted on the directive’s revision. So TTIP is already influencing EU policy, even while it is still being negotiated.

We need to be aware: TTIP is not just about trade, it’s about our right to regulate ourselves. The Lib Dems have a long and proud commitment to Europe. We must not let our belief in free trade allow us to sleepwalk into an agreement that looks like undermining democratic rights we hold dear and weakening standards we have fought hard for. I fear we have not yet truly got this message.

* Chris Bowers was a two-term councillor on Lewes District Council and a co-editor of "The Alternative" which explored the idea of a progressive alliance.

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55 Comments

  • John Roffey 2nd Apr '15 - 9:22am

    Excellent article – I am inclined to believe that the viciousness with which this election is being fought is much to do with the fact that TTIP is likely to come up for ratification during the next parliament – and the Tories in particular [or their corporate support] are extremely eager that the agreement is considered by the EU whilst they hold the keys to No 10.

  • @ Tim Oliver. You are happy with corporations running everything then?

  • John Roffey 2nd Apr '15 - 10:18am

    Tim Oliver 2nd Apr ’15 – 10:03am

    Tim – are you entirely sure that the ‘EU itself’ is not dominated by corporatism? Most accept that Mrs Merkel. representing Germany, is the dominate force within the EU.

    Germany is probably the EU nation that has the most global corporations that are world beaters – and therefore most likely to benefit from TTIP.

  • When the history books have been rewritten the seat loss of the Lib Dems will be put down to a faction of the Lib Dems swallowing every labour lie hook, line and sinker. The people that will survive are those that defiantly told the truth and smashed the labour bullyboy scare tactics by thinking constructively, imaginatively and defiantly.

  • jedibeeftrix 2nd Apr '15 - 10:42am

    “It says Europe’s current proposals would breach the democratic principles at the heart of the EU by giving US companies the right to information about EU legislation before the European Parliament or European civil society groups get to hear about it. Lib Dems should be alarmed at this.”

    Interesting argument, I presume therefore you were one of those people raising hell when the EU tried to demand [all] EU members submit their budgets to the commission for scrutiny before they were presented in a national parliament, rather than just eurozone members?

    “TTIP is not just about trade, it’s about our right to regulate ourselves. The Lib Dems have a long and proud commitment to Europe.”

    Can you understand that some see the same argument applying vis-à-vis the EU?

  • Is there any evidence to back up this post? If so, please post it, as for now it looks like a rehash of a Labour front PR.

  • Tsar Nicholas 2nd Apr '15 - 10:53am

    An excellent article from a source that was once close to the Dear Leader!

    If TTIP (and indeed the TPP) is so harmless, why not publish it.? Surely, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

  • Jonathan Harris 2nd Apr '15 - 11:05am

    There is a much bigger question in reference to TTIP, which goes way beyond the types of legal safeguards highlighted above in respect of the specific policy areas of the NHS and the environment.

    Quite simply it is a question of priorities. Should the EU be spending time effort and resources in reaching a trade deal with the US at this time?

    From the tone of this commentary TTIP is being pushed particularly hard by the original overt, commercial, self-interest of certain vocal sections of the powerful US business lobby.

    The EU and US are at very different stages in their economic recovery from the Great Recession. US GDP growth is chugging along nicely at c3% and US unemployment is down to 5.5%. The EU figures are 1.3% GDP in 2014 and 9.8% unemployment rate in the EU 28. Large parts of the EU including the UK remain massively indebted.

    The European economy has started to turn a corner, with unemployment down and growth up in the last year. However, the EU needs a new C21st style Marshall Plan to stimulate recovery.

    Perhaps the US would be willing to make a substantial, pre- TTIP, financial contribution to such an EU growth and investment plan?

    There has been a massive withdrawal of productive US capital from the UK alone in recent years from firms such as Pfizer and Applied Materials to name but two. Recent US takeovers by Kraft resulted in Cadbury closures, despite prior promises to the contrary. The US firms’ involvement in causing the global credit crunch through importing Credit Derivative Swaps and other casino banking practices to the UK should not be ignored. What about the roles of Lehman Bros. or AIG in the global financial crisis? Lessons need to be learned.

    Right now Europe should be focusing on its own economy, creating jobs, wealth and investment. TTIP can wait.

  • John Roffey 2nd Apr '15 - 11:08am

    Tim Oliver 2nd Apr ’15 – 10:31am &

    john 2nd Apr ’15 – 10:37am

    This debate has many facets – and no doubt most of them will be explored on LDV.

    My fundamental concern is that the global free market has already shown that it is rapidly shifting wealth to the few:

    “Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland

    Fair trade is fine – but when the widening markets simply decide which of a few hundred of global giants will take over others – it is not of benefit to the people. Few small and medium sized companies can not compete in these markets.

    Everything points to virtual or actual monopolies becoming ever more frequent – Oxfam will in the near future be obliged to calculate the wealth of the 75% poorest against that of less than the 100 wealthiest!

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Apr '15 - 11:12am

    @tsar Nicolas – “If TTIP (and indeed the TPP) is so harmless, why not publish it.?”
    Can you tell us what you want which is not here?
    http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1231

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd Apr '15 - 11:41am

    @Tim Oliver: ” The fears that the TTIP will force the privatisation of NHS services are totally unfounded. So says the European Commission itself. ”

    Because we all know the European Commission is always open and transparent with us and highly democratic to boot, right?!

    ” I certainly cannot recall a time when WTO agreements were reached transparently, or when I had a chance to express my say on whether to ratify such an agreement.”

    That makes it ok then, yeah? Since past trade treaties were conducted in secret with no democratic input, that makes TTIP perfectly fine. Personally, I think major treaties should be as open and transparent as possible, with full democratic input from the electorate and subject referendums. But the multinationals don’t like that kind of democratic scrutiny. I wonder why?

    “In short – stop buying into the alarmist, protectionist, illiberal nonsense of groups like 38 Degrees.”

    Personally, I see shadowy trade deals conducted between global corporations, corporate lawyers and lobbyists and the EU to be highly illiberal myself. If they’re so convinced TTIP will be good for us all, why not give us a proper democratic vote on it? It took a lot of effort for them to even share some of the drafts of TTIP.

    Many many people do not trust the EU. Many more people trust global corporations even less. Global corporations themselves are anti-democratic institutions. They are very often run like totalitarian dictatorships as anyone who has worked for one can attest. Many of them see democracy as a roadblock to the things they want. Ask yourself when was the last time global corporations were pushing for more regulations or more consumer protection. And as endless mergers continue, the power they wield is becoming even more concentrated. I thought Liberals were against large entities of concentrated power. I thought Liberals believed in giving people the power to make their own decisions, rather than empowering global corporations and their highly paid lawyers to set our destinies for us.

    We “little people” cannot sue corporations for loss of future earnings if we’re sacked, yet global corporations want the right to sue governments if the democratic process results in a loss of future profits. How can any democrat support giving corporations such power? Corporations are not people, no matter how much the free market fundamentalists try to convince us otherwise.

    Corporate lobbyists wield such disproportionate power to the power we average citizens hold. Witness how many corporate lobbyists receive Parliamentary passes while us little people are lucky if our MP bothers to reply to a letter. Governments and global corporations are so completely entwined and I cannot believe that so many supposed Liberals see this as a Good Thing.

  • As liberals we should not believe that free trade is a doctrine of liberalism. We should be pragmatic as liberals were in the nineteenth century. We should understand the need to regulate markets (as liberals did in the nineteenth century). We should now understand more that with the rise of international corporations markets favour the supplier and not members of the public. As liberals we must see our role as protecting people from the power of international corporations and free trade.

    The EU has been good at this. It has standards which are set at the higher level and not down at the lowest level. Therefore if a non-EU company wishes to sell its products in the EU then that product must meet the standards agree by the EU.

    As liberals we should be clear that we support trading with the US and are content that our products have to comply with their standards but their products can only be sold in the EU if they comply with our standards. We should not reduce our standards down to their level and we should not give up the power to continuously improve our standards without non-EU involvement.

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd Apr '15 - 12:07pm

    @MichaelBG:
    “As liberals we should be clear that we support trading with the US and are content that our products have to comply with their standards but their products can only be sold in the EU if they comply with our standards. We should not reduce our standards down to their level and we should not give up the power to continuously improve our standards without non-EU involvement.”

    In the words of Walter White: You’re goddamn right.

    “We should now understand more that with the rise of international corporations markets favour the supplier and not members of the public. As liberals we must see our role as protecting people from the power of international corporations and free trade.”

    I agree completely. Sadly there are a large amount of people in this party now who see any opposition to unfettered free trade as some sinister left-wing plot. They are so wedded to fundamentalist free markets that they defend secretive deals and corporate lobbyists while denigrating members of the public who are skeptical about ever-increasing corporate power.

    We now have “Liberals” who support the powerful over the powerless, the strong over the week, who are on the side of those who govern rather than the governed.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Apr '15 - 12:07pm

    Chris – I agree with John Roffey, excellent article!

    I completely agree with your point that this is about so much more than (vital as they are) the NHS and the environment. The focus on just one or two pet areas completely misses the cumulative and wider democratic and cultural issues.

    And also your “We need to be aware: TTIP is not just about trade, it’s about our right to regulate ourselves. The Lib Dems have a long and proud commitment to Europe. We must not let our belief in free trade allow us to sleepwalk into an agreement that looks like undermining democratic rights we hold dear and weakening standards we have fought hard for.”

    TTIP is potentially a major socio-political watershed. Until we see and have the chance to assess the full ramifications of this still under negotiation and still secret treaty, our official party position must be one of very cautious non-committment.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Apr '15 - 12:50pm

    Tom Papworth2nd Apr ’15 – 12:35pm
    “On a more general note, ” TTIP is not just about trade, it’s about our right to regulate ourselves.” I understand you are a candidate, Chris, but replace “TTIP” with “The European Union” and you sound like a candidate for UKIP.”

    Chris – But if you don’t replace it you sound like a mainstream Liberal Democrat candidate – rather than a TTIP cheer leader.

  • “There’s a new acronym doing the rounds, which I think is a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. And I fear the party may have fallen for the sheep’s clothing and not seen the wolf.

    The acronym is TTIP. It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which sounds all well and good. And if all it’s doing is promoting free trade between Europe and America, fair enough. But the question we should all be asking is: at what cost?”

    I’m guessing you haven’t been reading LDV for at least a few months it can’t seem to get rid of any of these endless opinion pieces. No one is going to make up their minds on the basis of any of them, not least as the thing is still in negotiation so there is not a final document to discuss.

    “There are fears that the TTIP agreement […] will threaten the state funding of medical services.”

    I think you have misunderstood the concerns of those who have them. I have yet to hear anyone say that they think the “giant corporate American medical monsters” will be demanding their ability to receive public funds. The concerns that have been expressed have focused on the provision end.

    Perhaps people should give this a rest until there is something substantial to discuss?

  • *correction

    “will be demanding their ability to receive public funds.”

    Should have read:
    “will be demanding the end to their ability to receive public funds.”

  • Charlie Kingsbury 2nd Apr '15 - 12:59pm

    When exactly did we as a party start cowering in the face of free trade? Free trade is what has defined us over centuries now, and our belief in it delivering better standards of living should not be compromised because of inaccurate external pressures. As Tom Papworth outlined, it’s clear this won’t jeopardise our public services, so why are we still having this debate?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 2nd Apr '15 - 1:34pm

    The negotiations over TTIP have been more transparent than any in history. In the link simon provides above there is a wealth of detail from every stage of the negotiations.

    I strongly agree with the point made above by a couple of people that the arguments against TTIP are exactly the same as those which anti-EU politicians deploy. And they are equally as flawed.

    Either we agree that we should be a member of the EU – in which case it would be utterly wrong-headed not to seek to capitalise on its strength as one of the world’s biggest single markets – or we don’t, and we should retreat to isolationism and protectionism. The debate boils down to those fundamental principles.

  • TP: “[…] replace ‘TTIP’ with ‘The European Union’ and you sound like a candidate for UKIP.”
    SH: “But if you don’t replace it you sound like a mainstream Liberal Democrat candidate”

    A conservative reactionary but one of “our” conservative reactionaries…

    Ha Ha Ha… sound argument there.

  • John Roffey 2nd Apr '15 - 1:50pm

    Charlie Kingsbury 2nd Apr ’15 – 12:59pm

    “When exactly did we as a party start cowering in the face of free trade? Free trade is what has defined us over centuries now, and our belief in it delivering better standards of living should not be compromised because of inaccurate external pressures.”

    Free trade during those centuries did not have the effect of making corporations more powerful than nation states and beyond any nation state’s control.

    Market forces will not contribute to other cherished liberal values that have lasted over the same time – and they no longer deliver better standards of living for the majority – perhaps you missed:

    “Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd Apr '15 - 1:59pm

    @Nick Thornsby: “I strongly agree with the point made above by a couple of people that the arguments against TTIP are exactly the same as those which anti-EU politicians deploy. And they are equally as flawed.”

    What, exactly, is flawed about wanting TTIP to be subject to democratic approval by the electorate? What, exactly, is flawed about wanting the European Commission to be subject to full transparency and accountability to the electorate rather than global corporations? People had to fight tooth and nail just for the EU to release some of the TTIP negotiation documents. Where’s the flaw in giving the public a vote on TTIP? If it is such a great thing that will improve our lives, why are those in favour of TTIP so intent on pushing it through without the say of the public?

    TTIP is a treaty for the already strong and the too-powerful. It will do little to help small businesses who already find it impossible to compete with the multinationals. We all know global corporations (who are not democratic) already wield more power than many nation states. This treaty will further entrench their power. Again, I ask, do Liberals no longer believe in breaking up large concentrations of power and giving people a say in how their lives are run?

    And why, for god’s sake, are supposed Liberals who support TTIP siding with the powerful over the powerless? Are you so wedded to your free-market ideology that it trumps democracy and the will of the electorate? The free-market fundamentalists are, like the communists of old, so devoted to their creed that they are blind to market failures and the negative effects these corporations have on us (especially when it comes to mental health). You don’t want to give us a vote on this because, like with an EU referendum, you’re scared the people won’t vote the “correct” way, ie., in line with your ideology.

    Liberals need to decide if they’re happy with global corporations ruling over us all, holding governments to ransom, and buying our democracy with their lobbyists and corporate lawyers. Why should a multinational have greater access to politicians than the electorate? Do you really want to live in a world where nation states and the will of the people comes second to the will of ever-growing corporate power?

  • Steve Comer 2nd Apr '15 - 2:14pm

    Why is everyone who has posted on this site being so damn Britocentric about this subject?
    Is it because having become a Unionist party by default, that were now running scared of UKIP and the Tories by adopting a ‘little Britain’ stance to anything that is done by the EU.

    Lets be clear that the Commissioner in charge of these negotiations is Cecilia Malmström – a Swedish Liberal .
    Now I would trust a fellow Liberal from another EU country far more than any British politician from the Labour or Conservative Party. Not only are the party of ‘in’ but we have credible allies in most other EU countries – unlike the Tories or UKIP.

    If we have concerns surely we should be raising them through ALDE and with Cecilia directly, not panicking just because a bunch of Socialists and ‘watermelon’ Greens in 38 Degrees cry wolf about the threat to the NHS every 5 minutes.

    So lets get a grip and approach this as pro-European Liberals, not as me-too Britsh Eurosceptics.

  • Charlie Kingsbury 2nd Apr '15 - 2:49pm

    @John Roffey, TTIP will mean that British corporations will have less control over consumer choice, not more. With more options available to consumers, with more competition, the consumer benefits a lot more than where we’re currently at. The more countries we have free trade agreements with, the more we will be able to export goods and services we have a comparative advantage in, and import the same from other countries.

    Free trade isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s not a case of corporations benefiting and consumers suffering.

  • John Roffey

    “My fundamental concern is that the global free market has already shown that it is rapidly shifting wealth to the few:[…]
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland”

    You are citing a very flawed report, it illustrates the rot at Oxfam. Rather than focusing on poverty which is what they used to be about they are now obsessing about wealth inequality which is far less important and lower than it was 15 years ago. Wealth inequality is a fashion interest rather than actual living standards and real life impact.

    “Wealth” is a distraction from the things that matter, the very low interest rates has driven up the “paper valuation” of assets held by rich people but the assets are not actually generating any more utility to the holders. Take property as an example, if someone holds a house in say an area of London that gives it a “paper value” of £10m is it better at keeping the rain off the head of the owner than it would have been if prices had risen more slowly and it was worth £500k? No the paper value and the utility are not automatically connected. The same goes for shares that have risen massively increasing the paper value of some people’s holdings where the holding can be no different than if they were worth a lot less in a higher interest rate market.

    Additionally the “bottom 50%” includes the vast majority of school and University leavers in rich countries. As they have not yet accumulated any assets and often have debt, so they are in negative wealth territory. The most extreme of these are often those with the highest future earning potential, a new hire by JP Morgan from Harvard will have vast accumulated debts (European students without student loans significant student loans are mainly negative but much less so).

    There are plenty of real world problems without this shadow boxing with issues that are just the latest fad.

  • Why is everyone who has posted on this site being so damn Britocentric about this subject? (Steve Comer 2nd Apr ’15 – 2:14pm)

    I would tend to agree with this observation. For about the first time here someone is actually talking about TTIP in an EU/European context.

    What I find shocking, is how blind many LibDem’s are in acting as TTIP cheer leaders, and dismissing people’s concerns, seemingly wishing only for TTIP to be quietly signed in some EU backroom, without the UK government being consulted in any meaningful way, yet binding Westminster and the UK LibDem’s to it’s provisions…

    Note, I use the word ‘signed’ and not ‘negotiated’, because to these people the document as it stands is good enough because all they understand about it is the PPE motherhood and apple pie briefing they’ve been given.

    Chris gives two examples of where TTIP considerations have either already or will impact EU internal matters and raises very valid questions of principle, that need answering. Without answers, our negotiating position may well allow things to stand which could and should of been removed.

    The question the TTIP supporters need to ask themselves, is why US trade groups are relatively relaxed about TTIP being kicked into the long grass if it isn’t signed before the current US Administration leave office. Yes they are lobbying hard for it to happen, but because they don’t see the world ending if it isn’t, suggests that TTIP isn’t quite what it is publicly being made out to be…

    What is clear as Chris, says TTIP is not just about trade; and does need proper scrutiny, something that requires open debate.

  • Roland
    “TTIP […] does need proper scrutiny, something that requires open debate.”

    Agreed, but more importantly scrutiny has to be specific and address reality not imagined issues. I have regularly seen the “anti crowd” on here making clearly fanciful statements then being asked specific questions by members of the “pro crowd” only for the “Anti” to come back with more general waffle.

    The “pro crowd” come across as a little unquestioning but that may be because no one will engage them in specifics, so you can’t see the nuance.

    For the amount of pixels expended on here on this topic there is very little of value.

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd Apr '15 - 4:33pm

    @Roland: “What is clear as Chris, says TTIP is not just about trade; and does need proper scrutiny, something that requires open debate.”

    Yes, indeed. Sadly there seem to be a large section of Lib Dems who give the impression that they want TTIP to be approved with the minimal amount of open discussion and analysis. Look how people who are skeptical or against TTIP are called names such as “socialist”. Look how TTIP’s defenders defend the treaty by saying “Liberals have always been in favour of free trade”. I may be wrong, but I seem to remember free trade being a bit different in the past, say the Victorian era, to what it is now. Back then there were not global corporations who wielded more power and money than nation states. I hardly think 18th century Liberals would’ve been in favour of the way global corporations have the power to basically hold governments to ransom (while getting away with paying pitiful amounts of tax through complex accounting and offshore havens).

    Those of us who are skeptical of TTIP are not all socialists or protectionists. I’m not a socialist. I think the free market is great for many things. But the kind of capitalism we have now is not working for most people. My kind of capitalism would see small businesses flourish, rather than small businesses being ground into the dirt and unable to compete with the multinationals. How many small businesses (versus multinationals) have been part of TTIP negotiations?

    Those who support TTIP give the impression that they favour the strong over the weak. And in supporting these undemocratic corporations, they seem to forget that this party’s very own constitution states “We aim to disperse power and follows with a commitment to letting people“to take part in the decisions which affect their lives”. TTIP (or at least the way its negotiations have been conducted) is fundamentally at odds with this party’s stated aims, as it will further concentrate power in the hands of those who are already too powerful. And the public has not had a say (and won’t have a vote, for that matter) on this treaty which will affect our lives.

    But nobody seems to want to acknowledge that. They’d rather call us names.

  • Steve Comer 2nd Apr '15 - 4:35pm

    I’m all for an open debate, and one of the justified criticisms of the EU is that too often the Commission does not consult properly, or widely enough. But bear in mind they are Senior Grade Civil Servants ,and you could make the same criticism about UK Civil Servants or Council Officers.

    So lets have an open debate in Europe on TTIP – in all 28 countries, and let the European Parliament lead the way in scrutinising the details in public. If we keep describing TTIP in terms like “this threat to Europe” then many people will read the ‘to’ as a ‘from’ and that we fuel the force of darkness, ie the anti-Europeans. As I said the negotiator is one of us, and ALDE is still a powerful group in the EP, and (unlike EFD and ECR it has showed it can build alliances with either the EPP or the PASD where necessary.

    Of course if the right wing and the North American owned press persuade the UK to leave the EU in a referendum fought with one-sided virulent racist propaganda on the ‘out’ side and a timid over-cautious ‘don’t frighten the horses’ approach from the ‘in’ side then all the discussion about TTIP wil be irrelevant anyway as this sceptic isle will be locked out by tarriff barriers…….

  • jedibeeftrix 2nd Apr '15 - 4:56pm

    Let me put it another way, Steve, if the EU fails to sort out a comprehensive free trade agreement with the US it will fuel British opinion that little good comes membership versus the cost.

  • @ Charles Kingsbury
    “Free trade is what has defined us over centuries now, and our belief in it delivering better standards of living”

    Our support for free trade in the nineteenth century was never total. It was not an ideological support. It was pragmatic support. Free trade delivers better standards of living if it is regulated, but unrestricted free markets can and have caused social problems, such as slums, and women and children working down the mines. The Liberals in the nineteenth century intervened in the free market again and again. An example I recently came across was the compulsory provision of third class rail seats.

    It doesn’t appear that the TTIP is solely concerned with the removal of tariffs – i.e. free trade, but it is seems to be about how the market is regulated with the US wanting corporations to have lots of rights.

  • Michael BG

    Would you ban women from working in mines?

  • David Evans 2nd Apr '15 - 6:47pm

    There are a great many who believe that Liberals have always supported, and so must always support, free trade irrespective of circumstances and however it may be defined. However, it has always been much clearer than that. Liberals have supported free trade to break monopolies/oligopolies that were being used to control markets for the benefit of the monopolists at the expense of the rest of society. Unfortunately we now have global monopolies/oligopolies and controlling them is much more complex than just the removal of barriers. Removing/reducing barriers may or may not help society as a whole. Free trade may or may not be a good thing for people. We forget this at our peril.

  • David Evans 2nd Apr '15 - 6:59pm

    PSi. At the time it was right to ban women and children working in mines. They were used to undermine men’s wages and tie whole families into a single employer, and allow them all to be exploited. If those factors arose again, it would be right to ban women and children from working in mines again. Unless of course you believe that freedom from poverty is less important than the freedom to establish market structures that allow exploitation.

  • A wolf in sheep’s clothing is an excellent way to characterise the TTIP.

    Putting “free” in the name acts as a dog whistle to far too many liberals who don’t stop to question whose freedom or what freedom is being advanced. That’s not just semantics, it’s fundamental.

    Baked into the thinking behind the TTIP is the entirely unsupported assumption that the activities of global corporations and banks will automatically and inevitably result in the greater good if they don’t have to obey any external rules. It’s the discredited trickle-down theory combined with the even more implausible extreme libertarianism. Any benefits will be hovered up by a handful of unaccountable executives and the system created will self-destruct – the banks have already shown us how this can happen.

    So ask yourself why large corporations and their politician lackeys are so keen on the TTIP. Does anyone really suppose they want to promote more competition or make it easier for challengers aiming to disrupt their markets with better products or services?

    The reality is that under a cloak of ‘freedom’ the core of the TTIP is about protectionism. It grants the largest corporations and banks freedom from the ordinary law of the land that might hinder their rent extraction and gives them a right of appeal to ‘arbitration’ that the rest of us, private individuals and small and medium-sized businesses don’t have.

    Consider the ‘arbitration’ procedure. Three arbitrators – who are drawn from a tiny group of specialist international lawyers – form a panel. One is appointed by the plaintiff (the company), one by the government and one jointly by the other two. Here is what one of them, Juan Fernández-Armesto is on the record as saying:

    “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all. Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

    (Quoted by David Malone at the 34:30 minute mark in this long but worthwhile lecture http://www.golemxiv.co.uk/2015/03/two-videos-one-politics-one-philosophy-2/

    Astonishing. Parliament and the courts overruled by three private individuals! What can I say? It’s the replacement of democracy by neo-feudalism. Some may want that but count me out. It’s also why those who think there is any equivalence whatsoever between the EU and TTIP are badly wide of the mark; for all its faults the EU does have some democratic input, the TTIP doesn’t.

  • Tim Oliver – “The fears that the TTIP will force the privatisation of NHS services are totally unfounded. So says the European Commission itself…”

    But that was never absolutely never on the cards even if some imagined that it was. What it would do (among other things) is create a ratchet effect by creating property rights in income streams arising from international investments (even where the ‘international’ dimension exists only by virtue of the investment being routed via a tax haven) that can transcend any other rights. So , in the case of the NHS, if some future government has privatised some part of it and a later government decides to take it back into public ownership for good reason then, depending only on the decision of a corporate-friendly arbitration panel, the company can probably recover the expected loss of future profits.

    Now it’s difficult enough to put a reasonable number on future profits even when there is no ulterior motive but this creates at the very least a huge ulterior motive – to represent (with full insider advantage of knowing the facts) that the likely future profits will be huge when in fact the business is about to die for some external reason – for instance because of technological change.

    In the real world companies will, in general, only stay legit if they know that they are subject to the normal commercial risks of being in business plus that bad behaviour will lead to legal or regulatory sanctions. Take that away and you are asking for trouble.

    Tom Papworth – ” Vince Cable has been given several assurances that neither our ability to run the NHS nor our ability to protect the environment will be threatened.”

    So the proposition is, “I’m a politician. Trust me.” or, from those who gave the assurances, “I’m a bureaucrat. Trust me.” Why do I not real reassured?

    Actually, that’s just not good enough from Cable. We, the people, pay politicians to exercise a healthy scepticism, to ask question, to probe and in general sniff out nonsense on our behalf not simply to roll over for their tummies to be tickled.

  • Why do I not real reassured > Why do I not feel reassured?

  • Stephen Campbell 3rd Apr '15 - 12:41am

    Brilliant posts, @GF, and very well articulated.

    To the uncritical proponents of TTIP: beware the law of unintended consequences.

  • @ Psi
    “Would you ban women from working in mines?”

    If I had been a Member of Parliament in 1842 I would have voted for the Mines Bill. Today I would not ban women working anywhere and in any role.

  • Denis Loretto 3rd Apr '15 - 10:36am

    GF is absolutely right to concentrate his fire on the ISDS arbitration procedure. Back some way in this thread (2nd Apr -11.12am) Simon McGrath provided a very helpful link to published details of the negotiations which were new to me and do throw light on some key issues. Digging deep into this material discloses this section on the ISDS issue –
    “Of course, the final result must also:
    • protect governments’ right to regulate
    • make the system more transparent.

    SENSITIVE OR CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
    In this area, some issues are sensitive or controversial. Here’s a summary of the main ones, and what we’re doing to address each. The report of the public consultation will include analysis of potentially sensitive issues.

    SENSITIVITY/CONCERN
    1. Governments’ right to regulate
    Some argue that Investment protection and ISDS in TTIP will jeopardize the legitimate right of Governments to
    regulate in the public interest. The EU has put forth in the public consultation several proposals for safeguarding the
    right to regulate. These include notably an explicit acknowledgement of the right to regulate and the clarification
    and limitation of the rights investors are granted.
    2. ISDS cases. There are concerns that ISDS proceedings are conducted in secret and tainted by bias and conflicts of
    interests. The EU has put forth in the public consultation proposals that would ensure full transparency and further guarantees for impartiality and ethical conduct of arbitrators.
    3. ISDS decisions. Certain EU stakeholders are concerned that ISDS tribunals generate inconsistent and sometimes biased practice and their decisions should be subject to review. The EU has flagged the need to review ISDS tribunal’s
    decisions through an appellate mechanism. ”

    This is the first I have seen of the efforts by EU negotiators to ameliorate the potential adverse effects of the ISDS procedure which the US negotiators are trying to make a “red line”. However my own view is that the ISDS procedure itself is so threatening to national interests in EU countries that any such improvements are unlikely to succeed. ISDS is already showing itself as corrosive where it is incorporated in other international agreements. Between the USA and EU where well-tried, strong and dependable judicial processes are already established, a special procedure to put disputes to panels of corporate lawyers should have no part whatsoever.

  • Denis Loretto 3rd Apr '15 - 10:39am

    Sorry for the disjointed layout in the extract from the official paper in the above post – hopefully the message is clear.

  • chrisjsmart 3rd Apr '15 - 11:42am

    Since when were large corporations ever been interested in fair free trade? Their default positions are monopoly, price and market fixing. Very few corporations have an ethical basis for business. Have the “free trader” commentators no memory of how the banks operate with lax regulation. If the big corporations are keen on this agreement the last thing on their mind is free trade. The insistence of arbitration separate from and insulated from our civil laws should be a clue to the real intentions of the agreement.

  • Charlie Kingsbury 3rd Apr '15 - 6:59pm

    A free trade deal is something completely different to the operation of a free market. Protectionism and regulation are completely different things. So when you argue against free trade by using arguments for regulation, there’s some dissonance as to what we’re discussing. Free trade is about exporting and importing goods and services; free markets are about how much involvement the government has in the operation of markets.Let’s stick to the topic and not get confused by terminology.

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Apr '15 - 8:04pm

    Charlie Kingsbury 3rd Apr ’15 – 6:59pm
    “A free trade deal is something completely different to the operation of a free market. Protectionism and regulation are completely different things. So when you argue against free trade by using arguments for regulation, there’s some dissonance as to what we’re discussing. Free trade is about exporting and importing goods and services; free markets are about how much involvement the government has in the operation of markets. Let’s stick to the topic and not get confused by terminology.”

    Technically you are of course correct – however, in practice the above post by chrisjsmart is the one which strikes a chord with me.

    Given the huge, unprecedented and accelerating transfer of wealth from the many to the few in recent years the only sensible approach is to await the results of the negotiations, openly discuss the likely implications of the proposals and then decide if TTIP is as benign as the corporations and their ‘assisted friends’ claim.

    Free trade combined with fair trade – Yes

    Free trade combined with a corporate free market free for all – No.

  • “The negotiations over TTIP have been more transparent than any in history. ”

    Well, a statement like that can only mean one of two things:

    1) the writer knows the details of every negotiation in history

    2) the writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and deals in soundbites.

  • @Denis Loretto – good post, I also note that the source you cite only notes: “The EU has put forth in the public consultation … proposals …” with no commitment to include any of these or the results from the consultations in their actual negotiations… However, they do begin to expose the US position, which would seem to imply either they do not trust the EU or would wish the EU to be subservient to it..

  • @ Charlie Kingsbury

    It is likely that even in the nineteenth century free trade sometimes involved meeting regulations, however today trade can not exist without meeting regulations. That is why TTIP is not just about free trade but is also about how trade will be regulated. I think some Americans might want to argue that some of the EU regulations are a form of protectionism. So let us not take a simplistic view that states free trade good and anything that reduces the free movement of goods and services is bad.

  • Denis Loretto – The material your deep dig exposed only serves to add to doubts about the whole process. For instance committing to a “public consultation” sounds nicely inclusive but there are many examples where such consultations are no more than a whitewash, designed to give the appearance of a public involvement when really there is none. The EU hardly has a great track record; as others have noted it has now disclosed some material about the negotiations but only after it was dragged through the courts.

    Then there is the point that “There are concerns that ISDS proceedings are conducted in secret and tainted by bias and conflicts of interests.” As you say there are now belated efforts starting to ameliorate the potential adverse effects of ISDS but that’s only because of rapidly growing public opposition. They are already on the back foot and scared. Expect the advocates of TTIP to fight dirty – it’s their only chance.

    I agree with your conclusion that ISDS is too dangerous to be allowed. Think of it as a tapeworm infesting the body politic and the issue becomes much clearer.

    Separately, it’s worth noting that most of the case for the TTIP’s benefits is extraordinarily weak. Most of it tracks back to a series of studies done on behalf of the EU by CEPR using a thoroughly discredited analytic technique – one that assumes, for instance, that anyone who looses their job as a result immediately finds an equally good one. If you belief that you probably also believe that the moon is made of green cheese and that all the miners displaced by the closure of most of their industry in the 1980s immediately got good jobs as software engineers, lawyers, accountants or whatever. Studies using more credible methodologies show substantial losses for most people with gains accruing to a small elite. What a surprise!

  • Charlie Kingsbury – ” … free markets are about how much involvement the government has in the operation of markets.”

    No. ALL markets have rules. They may not be clear or explicit and they are not necessarily enforced through official channels like the courts but they exist. So, in the mafia everyone understands the simple rule; do as the boss says or you get whacked.

    Absent rules designed to support and defend the legitimate public interest the operating rules become those of a playground with no teachers. The bullies take over and when they get away with it they become even more demanding. In commerce this is called oligopoly. Corporatists – not all of whom are in the Conservative Party – are happy to take the oligopolists’ shilling (they are either mercenary or have suffered cognitive capture) and argue the case of the oligopolists who want no rules that might hinder their rent extraction and predation which in practice means hijacking the power of the state to provide protection for them from potential challengers. This they misrepresent as “free” but not in a way that any decent person should endorse. In time it easily evolves into outright criminality.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/04/bill-black-hsbc-violates-sweetheart-deal-loretta-lynch-praises.html

    A liberal understanding of “free” in the context of markets is the near opposite of that. It is that concentrated power should be limited in specific ways that enable challengers to take on the establishment players in any sector. That can be tough for dinosaurs but it’s good for society, good for individuals. Unfortunately it’s the diametrical opposite of what TTIP aims to achieve which is to put global corporations beyond the reach of law, regulation or challenge. It aims, in effect, to establish a divine right of corporations.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not against large companies as such – I have worked for several. What I am against is the deeply illiberal proposition that we would be better off if they were placed largely above the law.

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