From the tobacco empires to shipbuilding; whisky to financial services, our economy, our jobs and our internationalist outlook have been rooted in cross-border commerce. The high seas that carried Greenock's sugar and Paisley's textiles seemed dangerous but today's global marketplace is an economic jungle. How we regulate trade in the digital age is the challenge for the 21st century.
The opening of negotiations with the US for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has captured the headlines. The scale and scope of this potential agreement should not be underestimated. An EU-US trade deal would cover almost half of world trade and put in place an unprecedented structure for regulating the transatlantic market. Getting it right will determine if I ultimately support TTIP.
Key tariff spikes is the first thing to be addressed: remaining high duties for products such as textiles hits Scottish businesses hard. But it is beyond tariffs where the greatest gains are to be made, and greatest caution needs to be taken. Levelling the playing field in public procurement is important, where the European market is relatively open while the US maintains a protectionist market. Genuine red tape should be addressed where it is serving little purpose but to choke off trade. Where we have the same standards, and only here, we should work towards easier recognition of each other's safety checks. This is where TTIP can and should level the playing field for our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Large multinationals can already afford to set up two production lines to serve the EU and US market: SMEs are in reality shut out.
But this does not mean TTIP at any price, and this is where the role of MEPs is crucial. The European Parliament will have to approve or reject any final agreement in the years to come, so making our demands heard now on what we want to see in the deal is vital.
This week we will vote on a report which sets out our key demands. Labour MEPs and our sister parties in the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) Group have been pushing hard to get support for our key issues. The draft report adopted calls for the complete exclusion of all public services, binding rules on our environmental and social standards, and insists the US signs up to and implements the core workers' rights in the International Labour Organisation.
And in direct contrast to the demands from all 28 Member State national governments, the report calls for the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism to be scrapped. MEPs on the committee including myself voted instead to trust local courts and end the system of secret arbitration. Rather than ISDS, the rule of law should be upheld in public and transparent courts with publicly appointed judges and an appeal mechanism, where the rights of governments to regulate is protected.
The final text adopted reflected all of this, but did not explicitly explain this means no ISDS. Make no mistake, Labour MEPs remain utterly opposed to ISDS and on behalf of the entire (S&D) Group for the parliament vote this week I have retabled our explicit language to spell this out in case there is any doubt from the public or campaign groups about what this language means.
TTIP has the potential to begin to set global standards. Many trade partners including China and countries in South-East Asia remain deeply sceptical human rights, environment standards or labour rights are part of trade agreements. If we don't set these global standards, the world will be following China's minimal rules in 20 years' time.
I am very clear: if the final TTIP agreement isn't up to scratch, I won't vote for it. But to get there we need to stay engaged, keep pressure up on the Commission and push for our values. The Greens and Eurosceptics have already ceded influence by making clear they will vote against any trade agreement, regardless of the content. The conservatives and liberals are already championing it before it's drafted. Only Labour and the wider S&D Group will push for reports like this week's to emphasise our absolute demands and will take our responsibilities seriously.
The days of closed borders, if they were ever really there, are over. We're part of global supply chains and our jobs depend on it. We cannot stop global trade, but neither should we accept the right's vision of unregulated neoliberalism. Fair trade with high standards is possible if we fight for it, and Labour MEPs will go tooth and nail to the end of negotiations.
Herald Agenda, 9 June 2015