Negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been going on for just over a year now.
The TUC was sceptical when the talks began and now we are outright opposed.
The TUC is not against trade, we know jobs and growth depend on our ability to trade with other nations. But we won’t support trade at any cost.
TTIP sets out to not only lower tariffs –which are on average low between the two areas in any case – but harmonise standards.
There are real threats here.
The US has significantly lower labour standards.
It has not ratified all of the ILO core conventions and in some ‘right to work’ states like Tennessee, it is effectively impossible for trade unions to operate normally.
The US also has lower levels of standards on health.
While the EU uses the precautionary principle (where tests must prove substances are not harmful) the US approach is to assume that something is safe unless proved otherwise.
And in reality, even after harm is conclusively proved, corporate lawyers keep worker protections tied up in legal challenges for years.
The TUC and unions across Europe have made clear that trade deals cannot be allowed to lower the levels of protection we have secured in the EU.
TTIP must not be a race to the bottom on standards.
As well as lower standards, though, TTIP also specifically threatens parts of the public sector, including education and health.
Don’t believe the European Commission when they say the health sector would be protected in TTIP.
We know from the UK’s trade and investment minister Lord Livingston’s comments in September that UK health sector will be included in TTIP and it will be included for Ireland too.
We know that it is not protected from being opened up to privatisation under a general exemption for public services that the EU applies to trade deals.
This is because this exemption only covers services provided ‘in the excercise of government authority’.
Well, it’s been a long time since the whole of the NHS in Britain was run solely by the government.
In fact, the Health and Social Care Act introduced last year in Britain intends for the majority of the NHS to be run by private providers.
This raises the question as to why trade negotiators get to decide what is classified as a public service rather than the public?
The strict definition of what counts as a public service means that the majority of the NHS would not count, and would open up the UK health service through TTIP to US investors on the same terms as EU investors, which is likely to result in increased pressure for privatisation for other parts of the NHS.
The same applies to education, water and sanitation, energy, transport … every public service you can think of.
And negotiators want TTIP to lock this privatisation in.
What is known as a ‘ratchet clause’ in TTIP would mean that all privatisation of public services that takes place after the deal is concluded is irreversible.
TTIP also contains a provision which would allow EU and US investors to use to sue governments in special international courts if they feel their profits are threatened.
This is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ‘ISDS’.
Companies are very broad minded when it comes to what counts as a threat to their profits and have made liberal use of ISDS to protect their business interests over the years.
Egypt has been sued by the French company Veolia under ISDS for increasing its minimum wages.
The Canadian government has been sued through ISDS by the American company Eli Lilly for failing to grant the pharmaceutical company a drug patent on the spurious grounds that the drug was veryu expensive and didn’t actually work!
And Slovakia has been sued through ISDS under its bilateral trade deal with the Netherlands when it renationalised its health service.
It had to pay $22 billion dollars in compensation to the Dutch insurance company Achmea.
And this isn’t – any more – an unusually large payout for an ISDS case.
Even where the state wins, the legal costs will usually run into the millions.
When lawyers are paid that much, you know that they will make creative use of any trade rules.
We’ve even seen spread betting markets develop to provide third-party funding for a range of ISDS cases, dropping the ones where the tribunal looks unlikely to grant a win, and pocketing the resulting prize money for the rest.
This is why the European Commission and politicians are naive when they say there is a good kind of ISDS where society will be protected.
ISDS will lay countries open to being financially crippled by law suits.
Yet in Britain, we are told that there isn’t money to fund the NHS anyway.
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has forced the service to undergo a cruel £20 billion of efficiency savings which is putting lives at risk and pushing staff to the limit.
Health staff have been denied the 1% pay rise they need to get by – which is why many of them have gone on strike this week, including even the midwives for the first time in their history!
If the British government doesn’t have enough money to run wards or pay staff a decent wage, where does it think the money will come from to pay a big American investor $22 billion in an ISDS case?
While the current British government might embrace privatisation with open arms, Labour have pledged to reverse the Health and Social Care Act if they win the election next May.
This would be very difficult indeed if ISDS in TTIP meant they would be sued for doing so, or if the government were frozen into inaction by the so-called ‘chilling effect’ where civil servants are reluctant even to risk an ISDS case.
ISDS freezes policies just where they are, stopping services coming back into public ownership.
But ISDS is chilling too because it undermines our democracy.
ISDS stops democratically elected governments from doing what voters want about health and public services.
This is unacceptable.
And the really worrying thing is that public services and health aren’t only threatened by TTIP but other trade deals too.
The EU has just finalised a trade agreement between the EU and Canada.
This deal contains all the same dangers that TTIP poses to the public sector – ISDS, the ratchet clause, the lot.
And don’t think Canadian investors are somehow nicer than American investors.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a Canadian company called Lone Pine set up a letter-box company in the USA so they could use ISDS to sue their own government for Quebec’s fracking laws.
So we must be alert to the dangers of the EU-Canada agreement too and not let it be, as the ETUC call it, a ‘trojan horse for TTIP’, quietly cementing a precedent for trade agreements to include public services and ISDS while everyone is busy campaigning against TTIP.
Unions have a fight on our hands to keep public services and health out of the EU-Canada agreement, out of TTIP and out of trade agreements full stop.
As you know, the fight is well underway in Britain, Europe and America.
The ETUC and AFL-CIO, the federations representing trade unions in Europe and America, issued a joint declaration in May which called for public services to be excluded from TTIP and ISDS and ratchet clauses to be scrapped.
They have made this call to negotiators in the EU and USA and are campaigning jointly.
At the TUC’s recent Congress in Liverpool we had representatives of the AFL-CIO and ETUC share a platform and pledge common actions to lobby on TTIP.
This is important because we will never win concessions from trade negotiators unless the pressure comes from both sides of the Atlantic.
The TUC has been actively campaigning to raise union concerns on TTIP since negotiations began.
We have been in close contact with our Business Minster Vince Cable and with MPs to raise concerns.
The TUC has also played an active part in the All Party Parliamentary group on US trade and investment, making sure that when it held a session with the head of the CBI, the TUC General Secretary was on the panel with him.
We have also made sure that trade unions have been involved in subsequent meetings of this APPG that have considered the different sectoral implications of TTIP.
At the insistence of the TUC and its member unions, the APPG will hold a session on the impact of TTIP on the public sector this autumn.
Our General Secretary also raised concern with ISDS with the former Trade Commissioner De Gucht in Davos in January.
The TUC has worked with 38 degrees and other groups like Friends of the Earth and the Trade Justice Movement in their campaigns for the European Commission to scrap ISDS in TTIP.
This pressure is working.
The European Commission opened the Investment chapter and the proposed ISDS mechanism up for public consultation in March.
Over 150,000 people submitted responses, the majority of them saying there was no place for ISDS in trade deals.
Now we are calling on the European Commission, and the new Trade Commissioner-elect, Cecilia Malmstrom, to take these responses into account during negotiations.
If TTIP was truly in the public interest, the Commission would listen to the voice of the public when it says ISDS has to go.
Of course the Commission will say it’s just carrying out the will of Member States.
But some Member States are now beginning to express concerns about TTIP too, and we need to press national governments to go further.
The German union federation, the DGB, has signed a joint statement with the German Economic Ministry against ISDS in TTIP.
The French government secured an exemption for the Audio-visual sector from TTIP because they were worried about the impact of American imports on an industry that needed state support.
We need to tell our governments that public services, broadly defined to include health and education, must be exempted from TTIP in the same way.
Of course, business groups are working round the clock to lobby negotiators to keep public services in TTIP and governments like the one we have in Britain are only too keen to appease them.
So we need to put TTIP on the bargaining agenda to tell employers we won’t accept TTIP in its current form.
And we need to make sure that labour standards must not be lowered. Workers’ voices must be respected and extended in any trade deal the EU forms with another country or region.
We need to work with MEPs in the European Parliament.
The Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament have said that they reject ISDS in TTIP and the EU-Canada agreement.
S&D group MEPs have also raised the importance of protecting labour standards in TTIP.
We need to build strategic, stronger campaigns together.
British unions with Irish unions and other unions in the EU and USA.
And we need to secure a proper place for trade unions at the negotiating table.
It is an affront to democracy that trade unions have been denied access to negotiating texts and have had to rely on leaks.
Only one or two really privileged trade unionists get to glimpse the texts in a special reading room in Brussels and then they aren’t allowed to make copies of anything they see – maybe we should be looking for a trade union rep with a photographic memory to send in there!
Without proper access to negotiating texts and discussions around TTIP, trade unions are not able to have a say over the details of the proposals for the public sector, workers rights, health, consumer or environmental standards.
These aren’t technical trade details, these are matters of public concern that we have a legitimate interest in.
Negotiators cannot lock trade unions out of negotiations and expect us to believe that the deal is being negotiated in our interest.
We’ve seen too many trade deals to believe that.
Not only the recent EU-Canada agreement, but also the EU-Korea and EU-Colombia agreement, where there were no enforceable labour standards.
In Korea more workers have been imprisoned since the trade agreement took place. In Colombia more workers have been gunned down with impunity.
And by the way, as the chair of Justice for Colombia in Britain, can I wish you every success in getting that EU-Colombia deal voted down in the Dail?
Trade unions don’t believe the EU naturally has workers interest at heart.
That’s why we must make sure we are in the room and can influence the shape of the negotiations.
Negotiators and government must commit to protect our health, democracy and rights in trade deals.
These are not commodities, they are core values, and they cannot be traded away.
Let’s stop TTIP, CETA and any other trade deal that’s being done in our name but is not in our interest!