Harry Saville is a Deputy Chairman of Aberconwy Conservative Association and interns with a Member of Parliament.
If there’s one topic that has been causing a stir amongst the loony left over the last few months it’s TTIP – or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to give it it’s full name. Hard left NGOs, unions and Labour MPs have been getting in a flap over the proposed free trade agreement. To them, the two most offensive aspects of TTIP are its potential impact upon the NHS and its Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS). But many of the complaints are grounded in misinformation.
One campaigner from North Wales recently claimed that people are “appalled that our NHS could be irreversibly sold-off to US corporations.” This completely misses the point of TTIP. It isn’t some grand auction of EU and US government assets to the highest bidder: it’s a free trade agreement between EU member states and the US.
This will do what it says on the tin – promote free trade by eliminating trade tariffs and standardising quality control requirements. The StopTTIP campaign group claim that it will herald a new age of soaring treatment prices and tumbling health service standards. Meanwhile, 38 Degrees has been active in peddling the argument that TTIP will result in the permanent privatisation of the NHS.
There is one glaring problem with these claims. As Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the European Commission’s chief TTIP negotiator, points out the World Trade Organisation and all EU trade deals provide exclusions for services supplied by the government; the NHS is recognised as one such service and the EU (and the US for that matter) has no intention of changing that position in respect of TTIP.
Indeed, the UK could be free uniltarally to allow US and EU firms to tender for NHS contracts under the provisions of TTIP and then change its mind at a later date. The facts are very clear: TTIP will not bring about the whole-sale privatisation of the NHS.
As incendiary as the non-existent threat to the NHS is the ISDS. This allows a company investing in a foreign state to bring a claim for damages against that state where it breaches the terms of the relevant trade agreement. Again, StopTTIP have been vocal on this aspect of the treaty. They claim it will allow companies to sue national governments for any “loss, or ‘expropriation’ of… future profits” through international tribunals.
Not only is this being touted as a threat to the NHS, but also as a constraint to future UK government legislation to protect labour rights and the environment amongst other things. Critics argue that this fundamentally undermines our core democratic principles by putting governments in the hands of businesses.
Again, this argument is nothing more than a straw man. ISDS is not unique to TTIP. Since 1975, the UK has negotiated 94 agreements that include ISDS. Despite the scaremongering, no ISDS challenge has been successfully brought against the UK Government. Meanwhile, 43 UK companies have brought ISDS claims against foreign states to protect their investments, and with good reason.
It is important to remember that it is businesses that provide the incomes of which people live and that even the largest corporations are founded upon individuals investing time and effort into their success. The ISDS provides recourse for businesses should the host state suddenly decide to expropriate their investments, and thus gives businesses operating internationally the confidence to invest and create new jobs.
Ultimately, this isn’t just good economic sense; the right of an individual to work freely, acquire wealth and use it to provide opportunities for other individuals to work freely in exchange for further wealth is the ultimate human demonstration of liberty. ISDS does not prevent a state from introducing new legislation – provided it is done in a fair way which does not violate the terms of international trade agreements on which foreign investment rests.
As Ken Clarke has pointed out, ISDS “plays a vital role in safeguarding the gains of international investments and the trade that depends on them, benefitting producers and consumers alike. It has been included in every British investment deal, without doing the slightest damage to consumer protection or undermining our sovereignty or our legal system.” Opposition to the inclusion of an ISDS highlights the core left-wing belief that the state comes first, as well as showing a deep contempt for private sector enterprise.
Behind the false arguments that the left throws up in opposition to TTIP is an anti-free trade, anti-liberalism, and ultimately, anti-US agenda. If implemented TTIP will create a free trade market of 800 million consumers. The UK in particular is set to make a killing, removing obstacles such as trade barriers between it and its biggest non-EU trading partner, the USA. The car industry alone could see the creation of 50,000 new jobs whilst the average household could be £400 per year better off. This gargantuan growth opportunity will play a vital role in ensuring that the UK and the British people stay at the forefront of the global race.
Finally, there is one amusing aspect to the TTIP debate. Day in, day out I deal with political surveys. Each survey which lists TTIP as a concern also makes clear that the UK Government must make every effort to make sure that we do not leave the EU. One cannot help but miss the irony in the argument that we absolutely must remain in the world’s biggest free trade area -but absolutely must not embrace any further free trade.