Greens have been at the forefront of campaigns to oppose TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Its proponents claim the agreement will ‘unlock’ EU-US trade potential by getting rid of so-called ‘barriers to trade’. However, these are often regulations which protect social, environmental and labour standards or the provision of health and other public services. The negative impacts of TTIP are likely to be wide-ranging, and include animal welfare, GMOs, generic medicine, digital rights, financial regulation and much more. There is particular concern over the impact on jobs (see http://www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk/2015/01/30/whats-wrong-ttip-voices-opposing-eu-us-trade-agreement/).
So is TTIP a good reason for leaving the EU? We say no.
TTIP is happening because it has political support amongst governments and political leaders across the EU and US. Progressing TTIP was a UK General Election manifesto pledge of Cameron’s Tories. They want to take Britain into TTIP regardless of whether we are inside or outside the EU. Free-market Eurosceptics have said they want Britain to negotiate with the US as equal partners in a UK-US trade deal. That is extremely unlikely to work in the UK’s economic favour. If TTIP goes ahead it is more likely that a UK outside the EU would ask to join TTIP as an additional signatory after the deal is completed. Once outside the EU, UK citizens will have less opportunity to work with citizens from across Europe to defeat TTIP. The EU-wide anti-TTIP movement has grown in recent years, with over 3.3 million EU citizens signing a European Initiative to stop it. This movement will be weakened by a UK exit, inevitably putting UK anti-TTIP campaigners, such as trade justice activists, at the margins on the issue.
TTIP is bad, but it is important not to forget the thousands of other trade and investment agreements which are agreed bi-laterally between nation states, including the UK. A proposed UK trade deal with Ethiopia and a recent deal with Colombia show the UK Government is happy to sign up to other damaging trade deals. Added together the impacts of such agreements are arguably as damaging as TTIP, if not more so.
TTIP’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism is rightly maligned. ISDS lets investors sue governments in private arbitration tribunals outside national court legal systems, and can exert a ‘chilling effect’ which undermines the introduction of progressive legislation. There is currently an ongoing battle over its inclusion in TTIP, but ISDS mechanisms have been routinely included in existing trade agreements, including many agreed by the UK. Globally, over 500 ISDS cases are known to have been brought as a result of these agreements (Traidcraft Exchange, 2015, International Investment Agreements Under Scrutiny).
The problems with ISDS go far beyond TTIP or the EU, and Greens, like other trade justice campaigners, want ISDS stripped from all trade agreements, not just TTIP.
The secrecy of the TTIP negotiations is opposed by Greens and those concerned about transparency and trade justice, but this is also a feature of other trade negotiations. Transparency in trade deal negotiations needs addressing across the board, and not just in TTIP or those other trade deals involving the EU.
In fact, on both ISDS and transparency in TTIP we have seen progress at EU level, following the concerted efforts of engaged MEPs, campaigners and a better informed public. ISDS is now seriously contested and could get taken out of the agreement, and we have seen progress on disclosure and access to documents.
Greens want trade justice in all trade agreements. This also means safeguarding democracy and the rule of law. As well as stopping damaging agreements, we want these objectives applied to all trade negotiations, whether involving the EU or not.
These political battles won’t be advanced by the UK leaving the EU. The lesson from TTIP, and the powerful transnational corporations it will benefit, is that we need to stand firmly together to tackle the underlying issues, not become divided and leave the fight to others.
This article can be found in the report, Why-Greens-Say-Yes-To-Europe, recently published by UK Green MEPs.