Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Campaign Letters 1. TTIP

As a candidate, one gets a lot of letters, mostly pro forma, on the issues of the day.  I have decided to post copies of my replies on the blog.

The first is on the issue of TTIP -

Thank you for contacting me about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

First of all: what is TTIP?  TTIP is more than just a trade agreement.  It is a process of mutual recognition of equivalent rules and regulations.  At this time, products made to similar standards must undergo local retesting and evaluation when imported.  I'll give a couple of real examples.

Cream-making machines in the US and Europe are made to difference standards.  At this time, this means that foods containing cream cannot be traded across the Atlantic.  TTIP will allow for this: after all, it is the cream that is being exported, not the machines.
Sun screen is tested differently in the US and the EU. Imports have to retested.  TTIP will allow for the swapping of test results and the rapid evaluation of equivalent standards without the product having to be retested.

I would like to point out that the TTIP negotiations are still ongoing. What these negotiations are about is allowing for local standards to be upheld.  An inferior product that is clear for usage in the US should still not be allowed for sale in the EU if its performance does not meet EU minimum regulations.

 The main stumbling block however isn't TTIP, but rather the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.  It is clear to me that these negotiations are being led by German and French concerns.  Last year, Minister of Foreign Trade, Matthais Fekl, told the French Senate that “France did not want the ISDS to be included in the negotiation mandate.  We have to preserve the right of the state to set and apply its own standards, to maintain the impartiality of the justice system and to allow the people of France, and the world, to assert their values,"  according to an article on the EurActiv website.

It is this very section, the ISDS that has also led critics of the project to claim that the NHS would be opened up further to corporation takeover, whether the government of the day welcomed it or not, for the ISDS would allow corporations to challenge legislation that they claim would be putting a brake upon profits.  The US is loath cut this section but it seems that Germany is not going to sign any agreement that contains ISDS in its current form.
The probable endgame for these negotiations is that the EU will get their / our way and a watered-down ISDS mechanism, matching the powers of many already in existence in other trade treaties, will be finally agreed upon.  The benefits of doubling cross-Atlantic trade are just too big for either side to walk away from.  For Britain alone, the extra trade expected from the successful signing of a TTIP treaty is in the order of £10billion a year.

Liberal Democrats support the TTIP negotiations and it is our party’s policy to ensure the success of TTIP in the best interests of the UK.  However, we are clear that we will not sign up to any deal which is not right for Britain.

Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, has said he wants to see the proposed ISDS clause tightened up.  While ISDS clauses are commonplace in existing trade deals, there is understandable concern that companies could sue us for losses and win if the Government takes a decision in the wider public interest.  To put this into context, there are around 3,400 investment treaties in force worldwide and around 2.5% of these have led to ISDS cases where the investor has won.  There has not been a single successful ISDS case brought against the UK and nothing in TTIP puts the UK at any more risk from being successfully sued by a company.  To be clear, ISDS cannot force the Government to open markets or privatise public services.

The UK has a large number of trade agreements already in place with other countries and over 90 bilateral investment treaties.  Not one of these has been watered down or threatened the high levels of environmental protection, food safety, consumer protection or any other regulatory standards we rightly insist upon.  Neither the EU nor the US is looking to reduce standards but Vince has been clear that if the US cannot match our standards, we will not lower our own.  They will have to raise their game and match ours.

Transparency is an issue that concerns many and this is something Vince Cable has been keen to improve.  Vince has met the EU Trade Commissioner to discuss this and has asked her to give senior UK parliamentarians access to the TTIP treaty text as it is being developed so they can raise questions or concerns on the public’s behalf.  This is on top of the significant moves the European Commission has already made to make previously restricted material available to MEPs. Where our interests are not harmed by disclosure, then disclosure must take place.

The EU Commission is rather irked by the standard of debate in the UK on the topic and have claimed that here it is being suppressed for our own domestic political reasons.  I know there is much worry over the matter: a lot of which is generated by a lack of information.  Therefore, in the hope of addressing this matter, I have included a link to the EU website, which far greater details of the TTIP process than any I know of in the UK media.


In this letter, I hope I have both given you some idea what the TTIP process is about and what the issues are that face it.  Negotiations are very much ongoing, with both the Liberal Democrats and our European partners keen to see delivery of a successful package that does not lower consumer and environmental standards, nor infringe upon the sovereignty of governments to set policy or decide how to best spend public money.

If you have further questions on the issue, or any other, I will be glad to hear from you.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Veart
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Edinburgh North and Leith.

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