The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, commonly known as TTIP, is a potential agreement to enable freer trade between the EU and the US. But it has a lot of people worried for a lot of reasons.
The agreement is supposed to make it easier for corporations to do business. But one of the concerns resulting from this is that public services, including the NHS, would become open to US companies under the deal, and that the existing privatisation of services such as rail and energy would become irreversible. Whether we renationalise these services should be up to our country’s democratic process, not up to the details of an EU/US deal.
There are also worries that corporations’ rights under the deal would trump those of national democracies, and that companies would be able to sue governments if they brought in any legislation detrimental to them. For example, Swedish energy company Vattenfall sued the German government over its decision to decommission nuclear power plants, and American tobacco company Philip Morris sued the Australian government over the introduction of plain cigarette packaging. This sort of thing could become more and more common under TTIP, or simply result in governments not bringing in legislation that would be in the interests of their citizens for fear of being sued.
Another concern is that our food standards would have to be brought in line with America’s, which in some cases would result in a lowering of standards. There are indeed many concerns. But are these genuine fears or are they just scaremongering? The European Commission website has a question and answer section on the TTIP deal, and it addresses most of the main concerns. If you take the answers to all the questions at face value, then it would seem that we have nothing to worry about. But should we take them at face value? In short, no. The problem is that negotiations are being held in secret, and we would simply have to take it on trust. But this is not close to acceptable in what is supposed to be an open and transparent democracy. One of the least convincing answers on the European Commission’s website relates to the question of secrecy itself:
“Are the negotiations being held in secret?
“For trade negotiations to work and succeed, you need a certain degree of confidentiality, otherwise it would be like showing the other player one’s cards in a card game.”
What? In this analogy, who are the players in the card game? The EU and the US? But the secret negotiations are between the EU and the US! There are no other “players” to keep the “cards” from. In any case, the analogy is not satisfactorily explained, and the question is not adequately answered, if you consider it answered at all.
This is not supposed to be a negotiation about a specific trade between two private companies (who might reasonably want to keep certain details secret), but a negotiation about how trade in principle should take place. And this should be fully open to democratic and public debate. The answer they have given is in no way satisfactory. The fact that I have read it and am none the wiser as to why negotiations should be secret demonstrates that it is not a satisfactory answer. It is a glib and dismissive answer from the official European Commission website and it gives me no confidence in the process whatsoever.
In conclusion, regardless of what good and bad may come from TTIP, every aspect of it should be open to proper public and democratic debate and not be forced through in secret. There are genuine concerns about the irreversibility of privatisation, including of the NHS, and about companies’ ability to sue governments for bringing in legislation that is detrimental to them. TTIP seems to be in the interests of big businesses rather than in the interest of countries or of individual citizens. Of course, if we were to take these complaints to the European Commission, we’d probably be told that we’d misunderstood how TTIP is going to work. But how can we understand it when the details are secret?
For these reasons, I am against TTIP.