Some of you will have heard of TTIP.
If you haven't then I wanted to draw your attention to something that is of increasing concern to those of us who want to see a future Labour Government radically change how and for whom our economy works.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive 'free trade and investment' treaty currently being negotiated between the European Union and the USA.
A brief background to the possible pitfalls presented by TTIP can be found here:
Whilst a more in depth analysis by the respected global anti-poverty charity, War on Want, can be found here:
As the booklet explains:
"As officials from both sides acknowledge, the primary aim of TTIP is not to stimulate trade through removing tariffs between the EU and USA, as these are already at minimal levels. The main goal of TTIP is, by their own admission, to remove regulatory 'barriers' which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these 'barriers' are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. The stakes, in other words, could not be higher."
I'm pleased to say the Labour Party has moved its position on TTIP. Initially we were broadly supportive of the negotiations that, if successful, promised billions of pounds worth of jobs and 'growth' from the deal. But there's been a dawning realisation TTIP is not something an incoming Labour Government would want to be constrained by.
The first alarm bells were raised as regards to the NHS. Labour's shadow health team quickly realised that as things stood, TTIP could potentially scupper our plans for repealing the Coalition's 2012 NHS privatisation bill (aka the Health and Social Care Act). That's because a clause known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would in effect give transnational corporations the right to sue nation states for loss of profit both now and in the future.
An example of ISDS in action has recently been seen in Australia. It was here that tobacco giant Philip Morris sued the Australian government over its legislation for plain packaging rules for cigarettes (sold in Australia). The Australian news website Inside Story says Philip Morris sued on the basis of an ISDS contained in the Australia-Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty. Whilst the Australian Government’s legislation has been upheld by the Australian High Court the Philip Morris challenge continues.
One of the key concerns about ISDS is that it's not enforced by courts but by arbitration tribunals. Some hearings have been held in secret. The “judges” are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear.
Unsurprisingly the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fully behind TTIP and have ruled out any opt-out for the NHS. The Tories in particular see TTIP as an opportunity to lock-in the privatisation changes they have made to the NHS.
Labour has now called for an exemption to the NHS from this treaty. So far, so good. But like myself you may be asking yourself, 'Well if an exemption is good enough for the NHS, what about the rest of our public services?' In addition under TTIP future public ownership of rail, water and energy, something I believe in the national interest, would also be made almost impossible.
Thankfully at the Party's recent National Policy Forum in Milton Keynes (where the basis for the 2015 manifesto was agreed) the Party reaffirmed NHS exclusion from TTIP but also went much further:
"Labour believes that key to an EU US trade deal that we would encourage the rest of Europe to support, which avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth would be safeguards and progress on labour, environmental and health and safety standards. Labour has raised concerns over the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in TTIP. Labour believes that the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms."
Whilst not an outright rejection of TTIP such a position is a vast improvement on where we found ourselves just a few months ago. However, personally I'll keep pushing for more. That's because I believe TTIP represents a free market model of the world economy that has failed the vast majority of us. The last 30 years have shown such a model of capitalism increases inequality and insecurity and leads to more frequent financial crashes.
Simply tinkering on the margins will not be sufficient. A tad more regulation there, a bit more transparency here, a regulation over there, some restraint on executive pay over here. It simply won't wash and a growing number of us, including our leader Ed Miliband, instinctively understand this.
Some of the principles for fairer trade we should be calling for can be found here: http://www.alternativetrademandate.org/about-us/our-vision/ and here: http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/gmb-back-new-push-on-eu-trade-rules