TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is billed as a free trade agreement between Europe and America – and thus looks like something right-wingers ought to support. But as I’ve argued before on the Deep End, from both a national sovereignty and a free market viewpoint, we should be deeply suspicious of it.

The radical left was the first to protest, but resistance to the TTIP agenda is increasingly broad-based. Last week on ConservativeHome, John Redwood (not known for his participation in anti-globalisation riots) expressed his concerns:

“Thank heavens for the WTO. It has done most of the job for us in getting tariffs down. It’s a pity the EU cannot also do the same, and cannot find a way to further and hurry free trade that does not upset so many of us. The EU’s negotiation of the TTIP just looks like another clumsy EU power grab, allied to anti-American rhetoric on sensitive topics which does not help anyone.” 

In the American Conservative, David Singh Grewal highlights two especially problematic aspects of the proposed agreement. The first of these is the use of ‘investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms’ – i.e. parallel courts:

“ISDS… allows multinational litigants to bypass the national courts and instead empowers panels of private arbitrators—most of whom are practicing attorneys who cycle in and out of arbitral work—the right to sit in judgment of national laws. These arbitrators owe no special allegiance to any particular system of justice. They are not bound by precedent, and what precedent there is has often been developed by earlier ad hoc panels, not judges vested with constitutional authority. And the decisions of ISDS panels are typically final, not subject to review by any higher court.”

The disregard of precedent should be a particular worry to those of us who value the British system of justice (already under siege from the European courts).

Then there’s TTIP’s lack of transparency:

“What now proceeds under the banner of free trade thus looks much more like stealth integration—all the more so as the drafts of these trade agreements remain a closely guarded secret with national security classification.”

Both of these points of concern are echoed by the economist Dani Rodrik, who uses a piece for Project Syndicate to rebut the excuses made for TTIP:

“Proponents defend ISDS by saying that it will not have much consequence for countries, such as the US, where there is good rule of law, and that it will promote investment in countries, such as Vietnam, where there is not. In that case, it is unclear why ISDS provisions are needed for the TTIP, which covers the advanced economies of North America and Europe.”

It’s worth noting that unless they’re privy to the negotiations, the defenders of TTIP literally don’t know what they’re talking about:

“…what especially grates on the agreements’ critics is the secrecy of the negotiations. The draft texts are not open to public scrutiny, and the few outsiders who are allowed access to them are prohibited from divulging the contents.”

Of course, the same veil of secrecy means that the opponents of TTIP don’t know what they’re talking about either. But given this state of imperfect knowledge, it is incumbent on all conservatives to adopt a position of extreme caution. If on the face of it, something looks like an anti-democratic power grab, then, in the absence of contrary evidence, that is what we must assume it is.