Thank you for getting in touch with your concerns about TTIP and CETA - the trade deals currently being negotiated by the European Union with the USA and Canada.
Personally, I first blogged about TTIP in 2014 (http://martinveart.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/ttip-and-isds-one-good-one-bad.html) and identified the potential difficultly of the negotiations, that is how to overcome ISDS - Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism. It is this mechanism that has led to concerns, as voiced by organisations such as 38 Degrees and the potential future of public organisations such as the NHS. The ISDS mechanism struck me then as a particular threat to national and EU sovereignty and I came out strongly against it.
I returned to the topic for Westminster elections in 2015 where I outlined the then Liberal Democrat position (rather uncritical of TTIP and ISDS) and where it differed from my own position. http://martinveart.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/campaign-letters-1-ttip.html In this blog I restated my opposition to ISDS while stating the benefits of TTIP, especially for our small and medium-sized businesses across the UK and EU. It is recognised that TTIP would be worth the many billions to all trading nations: the equivalent of an extra €500 for every adult and child in the EU on this side of the Atlantic alone; the equivalent an extra £1billion each year for Scotland. This is not something to be dismissed lightly.
Since last year, I am very pleased to say that the Liberal Democrats position has changed and has come more into line with my own. As I predicted, this debate has been led by Europe.
Last September France and Germany suggested an alternative to ISDS in the form of a semi-public investment court system (ICS). Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, with other Liberal members of the European Parliament, has voted strongly in favour making sure there are no special courts for corporations and in ensuring any dispute mechanism is accountable. Like you, liberals want to see a system of dispute resolution that is accountable to the public, transparent and ensures the State's 'right to regulate' takes priority over an investor's 'right to invest'.
The European Union has recently issued a clear guarantee that Member States' rights to provide the public services they see fit will be enshrined in TTIP and CETA – this is to prevent any challenge by corporate interests. This is a welcome clarification and will provide the safeguards that we are all looking for.
I have to say that since then there has been further developments of great interest. On the 19th of April, the UN Human Rights Council's independent expert, Alfred de Zayas, questioned the whole necessity of having either an ISDS or ICS system, claiming that neither system was compatible with national sovereignty or human rights.
Speaking in front of the Council of Europe's legal affairs and human rights committee, de Zayas said “Existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms should be phased out and no new investment treaty should contain any provision for privatised or semi-privatised dispute settlement.”
The reason de Zayas gives is that while ISDS mechanisms are necessary in bi-lateral trade agreements in order to ensure that trading partners with less-than-adequate national legal systems do not arbitrarily change laws to target individual companies, both the US and the EU are governed by the rule of law. It is therefore unnecessary for any form of ISDS system to be part of TTIP.
I have reflected upon de Zayas' position and found that it is consistent with my own view that any form of ISDS or ICS is unnecessary to make TTIP work as a trading agreement.
It is too early to gauge the effect of de Zayas' intervention into the ongoing process. Recent rounds of the TTIP trade negotiations are stumbling over European companies ability to win US procurement contracts. In terms of public tendering and procurement from the private sector, America has a "buy US" policy for federal contracts, while demanding equality for US companies operating in the EU.
It is important to recognise that both TTIP and CETA could bring significant benefits to businesses and families across Scotland by allowing a greater trade of goods and services within a wider marketplace with reduced barriers. Indeed, these deals are estimated to be worth tens of billions of pounds to our economy and could support hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country. That’s potentially great news for the many people in our community who are looking for work and for our local businesses that want to grow and expand and is a prize that is worth fighting for, but only if we can also protect our public services and ensure accountability.
At the moment we should be clear that these are just negotiations and a final agreement has not yet been reached let alone published. If an agreement is reached it will still have to be approved by the United States Government, the European Commission, the European Parliament and each of the twenty eight European Union Member States’ Parliaments.
I am clear that, when we get the chance to look at and consider the final agreement, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will not support anything that threatens our public services, gives power away to corporations or would jeopardise the free and public nature of the NHS and other public services we all rely on. As one in the party that has been more critical than most, if elected I will ensure that this remains the case.
Having outlined my position, please would you support me with your vote in the upcoming election? In doing so you can be sure that you would be electing a person who has an informed, strong and independently-minded view on the entire TTIP process.