David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

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In this article, which first appeared in the New Statesman 1 September 2016, David Martin fears the Tories’ ideological commitments will cloud the UK’s weaknesses in negotiating new trade deals and calls on Labour to set out its vision for a progressive trade policy.

 

For over forty years the UK trade relations have been forged in Brussels.

The magnet of access to a market of half a billion people has brought the world to the EU’s door. The EU has agreements or is negotiating deals with around two thirds of the world’s population. This has opened up previously closed or partially closed markets, creating and protecting millions of British jobs.

Following Brexit the UK will have to negotiate fresh deals to protect the preferential access we have to numerous markets across the globe. They will face two handicaps. Firstly, there is no expertise in Whitehall in negotiating trade deals and it will take years and a significant growth in staff for the UK to be in a position to negotiate on an even basis with other countries. Secondly, we are an important market of 60 million consumers but that is a fifth of the clout that the EU currently brings to the table.

My fear is that the Tories will use their ideological commitment to the free market as a short cut to overcome these weaknesses. Although not always successful as we would like, the EU pursues certain values in its trade agreements - the protection of labour rights, human rights, the environment and our public services and welfare state.

It is therefore absolutely essential that Labour sets out its vision for a progressive British trade policy - an effective opposition demands it. This are my priorities for Britain’s future trade relations with the world.

British trade deals must work for the many and not the few

Services represent 78 per cent of British GDP and employ almost 80 per cent of our workforce. This includes financial services, which employ around two million people across the UK. However, services are not covered anywhere near to the same extent as goods in free trade agreements (FTAs), even modern ones. This is something that will have to change in order for the most citizens as possible to gain from trade.

This is because many barriers to the trade in services are not tariffs, but more complex regulatory differences. We must remain vigilant that the process of bringing economies together leads to higher common standards, not a race to the bottom. In this way, cooperation can benefit businesses and their workers, and yet also improve and reinforce our international governance of systemic economic sectors, like banking. It is also imperative that trade deals do not impinge on a governments’ right to provide public services like education and health as it sees fit.

British trade deals must reinforce our values at home and abroad

Trade deals can be a positive force for social change in the world. Cross-border commerce must not be an excuse for us to export poor working conditions across the globe.

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and other countries will still want to do trade deals with us. However, judging by the behaviour of the Tory ministers in the EU Council and their MEPs, workers’ rights and provisions protecting the environment in trade deals are often seen as a hindrance rather than an opportunity. Instead, a Labour trade deal would set high enforceable standards for our partners - including, for example, the ratification of core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, or measures aimed at protecting our forests and oceans from environmental degradation.

British trade deals should be transparent

Labour MEPs have been at the forefront of calls to open up the EU’s rather opaque negotiating procedures, and great strides have already been made. In order to properly engage with the policy process, citizens need to have the relevant information at their fingertips. The obvious urgency of Britain’s situation could be used as an excuse to keep the details in the dark. This is not acceptable - better policy-making requires input from civil society.

British trade deals must protect British steel and other manufacturing from unfair competition 

As I wrote at the time, last year’s steel crisis was a bed that the Conservative government had made for itself. The EU’s efforts to update its trade defences against the unfair dumping of Chinese steel were continually thwarted by the UK government’s veto. In 2015 alone, 5,000 jobs were lost in this sector, and the Port Talbot plant is still struggling to find a buyer.
It is therefore absolutely crucial that British trade policy provides us with the necessary tools to protect our industry where there are clear cases of government subsidies by foreign governments. We don’t want a return to protectionism. What we want is a level playing field for British steel and other manufactured goods on the world market.

Leaving the European Union means sailing out into uncharted waters. On trade, the UK government will soon be on its own. There will be strong winds buffeting it towards a future of deregulation and cross-border casino capitalism. Labour should strive against this with all their might and offer a progressive alternative.

 

The Tory record on trade deals shows Brexit Britain has much to lose

In this article, which first appeared in the New Statesman 1 September 2016, David Martin fears the Tories’ ideological commitments will cloud the UK’s weaknesses in negotiating new trade deals...

Labour MEP David Martin has welcomed the news that the Uruguay government has won the court case launched by Philip Morris. The tobacco company had sued Uruguay following the government’s decision to place large graphic health warnings on cigarette packets in 2009.

 

The World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ruled, on 8 July, in favour of Uruguay, ordering Philip Morris to pay a $7 million fine as well as covering: “all the fees and expenses of the Tribunal and ICSID’s administrative fees and expenses.”

 

David Martin, who is the Socialist and Democrat Group spokesperson for international trade in the European Parliament, said:

 

“This is a very welcome decision. The ICSID has upheld Uruguay’s right to regulate in the interest of public health. It sends out a strong message that companies cannot dictate public health policy using investor state dispute mechanism (ISDS) clauses in bilateral investment agreements. The interests of the people have trumped those of big business.

 

However the details of the decision are not public because of confidentiality clauses in the investment agreement. This is not acceptable. Transparency is an essential prerequisite where public money and policies are involved.

 

This ruling comes hot on the heels of another unsuccessful lawsuit for Philip Morris, whose Asian subsidiary lost their legal challenge against the government of Australia in December 2015. However, this most recent case is even more significant, because whereas the Australian case was thrown out on jurisdictional grounds, the Uruguay case was won on legal merit.”

 

UK Labour MEP David Martin welcomes Philip Morris ISDS judgement in favour of Uruguay

Labour MEP David Martin has welcomed the news that the Uruguay government has won the court case launched by Philip Morris. The tobacco company had sued Uruguay following the government’s...

Scottish Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler are engaging with their Dutch and Slovakian colleagues as part of a joint bid to save the Scottish plant as well as one in the Netherlands.

Carron Phoenix, owned by the Franke Group, is to close its Falkirk sink-making plant by December 2017 to move operations to Slovakia to cut costs. The move has already sparked widespread anger about the loss of Scottish manufacturing jobs with yet further outrage coming as a result of temporary workers being brought in to meet the high levels of current demand.
 
In a joint statement, the Scottish MEPs said:
 
“We are working with the GMB in an effort to ensure these skilled manufacturing jobs stay in Scotland. As well as writing to the Franke Group, we are engaged in dialogue with Dutch and Slovakian colleagues to see what can be done in the way of joint campaigning.
 
“We are also keen to ensure all avenues of consultation and information with the trade unions at national and EU level are used to avoid job losses, and for a full and independent study to be made of the grounds for the closures announced in Falkirk and the Netherlands, as is common practice in so many EU countries before restructuring. Staff being taken on in Falkirk to cope with growing orders does not sound like an unsustainable plant to us.
 
“We would urge Carron Phoenix/Franke management not to throw the baby out with the “sink” water, and risk losing decades of highly experienced craftsmanship in this sector in Falkirk.
 
“It is seldom wise to put all your eggs in one basket. Falkirk has proved itself to be a good productive factory, and deserves to be considered as a valuable asset going forward for Franke, helping to ensure quality production alongside other plants coming on stream, not sacrificed for short-term gain.
 
“Scotland has a long and proud history of manufacturing successes and jobs such as those at Carron Phoenix are the backbone of our economy. We will continue to work with colleagues and unions to fight to keep these jobs here in Scotland.”

Scotland’s Labour MEPs join efforts to save over 200 jobs at Falkirk factory

Scottish Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler are engaging with their Dutch and Slovakian colleagues as part of a joint bid to save the Scottish plant as well as...


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