Trade Agreement update
The big issue at the moment in Brussels is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). EU member states should have agreed to sign the agreement this week, but internal constitutional problems in Belgium mean that they have not done so, and it has been postponed. The agreement will come before the European Parliament officially once it has been signed by all 28 member states and Canada, although of course we have been working on this agreement with the Commission for a long time, securing important changes to the text - for example on the toxic ISDS. Canada is an important economic partner, and CETA could bring important benefits to Scottish firms and SMEs, securing jobs across our country. But we need to get the agreement right, so that workers’ rights are protected and the British government retains the right to regulate and can renationalise public services as it sees fit. The Commission has released a declaration to go alongside the actual text of the agreement, clarifying many of these areas. It appears other declarations requested by member states are in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, it looks like for the time being that TTIP has been kicked into the long grass. Many contentious issues remain on the table and it’s difficult to see any movement from the US or European side before the elections in the US this November and France and Germany next year. From a British, post-Brexit perspective, this most likely means that we will not be a partner in the agreement, although I will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Negotiations in the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) may well be concluded by the end of the year. A negotiating round is taking place in Oslo today (21 October). In particular the EU is finalising its commitments on data flows in line with the EU’s new internal rules on data protection. The Socialists and Democrats position is largely reflected in the European Parliament resolution on TiSA of 3 February 2016. The main points are:
• Protection of public services
• The right to regulate must be legally secured
• Transparency of negotiations
• No commitments on financial services that turn back the clock on regulations of the financial sector; Privacy is not a trade barrier but a fundamental right
• Carve out audio-visual services and reserve policy space for cultural issues• No to social dumping and preservation of labour rights
• TiSA must also maintain an open door. The endgame for successful TiSA negotiations must be multilateralisation beyond the 23 negotiating parties.
In an article in the New Statesman last month I outlined the obstacles for the UK in negotiating new trade deals, and called on Labour to set out its vision for a progressive trade policy. See http://www.martinmep.com/ns
“Against Britain’s history as a place of openness and tolerance”
Reacting to the proposal from UK home affairs minister Amber Rudd that UK companies will have to provide lists of foreign workers S&D Group president Gianni Pittella said:
“This is a small-minded, bigoted move designed to pander to xenophobes. All it will do is create more divisions in society and will not improve the lives of UK citizens in any way. Our message to the Tory government is clear – be careful what you wish for. If you continue to demonise foreign workers and let the pound devalue, these people will leave. This policy goes directly against Britain’s history as a place of openness and tolerance, and would be economically disastrous for the UK".
UK workers must not be left worse off than their European counterparts post-Brexit
7 October was ‘World Day for decent work’ organised since 2008 by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Labour MEPs joined the call around the world for decent work and better working conditions and criticized the trend towards precarious employment.
Socialists & Democrats know that we can only defend labour rights and the welfare state by acting together at a European level. While Europe continues its efforts to become a force that strengthens workers' rights and protects people against abuse, workers in the UK will face an uncertain future after Brexit.
In a new report published last month (September), Thompsons Solicitors argue that rushing to trigger Article 50 without a clear strategy puts vital employment rights and health and safety legislation under threat. With so many rights at work underpinned by EU law, leaving the EU will have profound consequences for workers in the UK. In their review, authors Iain Birrell, Gerard Stilliard and Richard Arthur insist the government must commit to including the trade union and labour movement in discussions on the terms for leaving the EU, and must guarantee that the rights of UK workers will not be diluted. The 13-page review (pdf) entitled “The impact of Brexit on UK employment law rights and health and safety legislation” can be downloaded at: http://www.thompsonstradeunionlaw.co.uk/information-and-resources/documents/ThompsonsBrexitReportFINAL_002.PDF
Or if preferred email firstname.lastname@example.org and my office will email the pdf.
Parliament message to Bangkok: “stop persecuting human rights campaigners and do more to protect migrant workers”
Andy Hall is a UK activist who campaigned for the rights of migrant workers in Thailand's fruit industry. In 2012 he contributed to a report alleging the Natural Fruit Company mistreated its workers. This led to several criminal and civil cases being filed against him by Natural Fruit, relating to defamation and computer crime. Andy’s report alleged that there were dangerous working conditions in the factory, illegally low wages and discriminatory treatment against migrant workers. Natural Fruit denied all allegations and decided to prosecute him.
Last month (September) Andy was given a three-year suspended jail term and fined 150,000 baht (£3,300). This is a verdict against freedom of expression and human rights defenders in general with the danger that it will embolden other companies to file suits against activists and workers.
This month the European Parliament overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling on Thailand to do more to ensure migrant workers aren’t exploited and those who defend their rights aren’t locked up.
The resolution sent a strong message to Bangkok - stop persecuting human rights campaigners like Andy Hall, and do more to ensure exploited migrant workers are protected.
MEPs strengthen EU ban on torture goods
At this month’s plenary the European Parliament voted on updating the EU’s 2005 Anti-Torture regulation to include further measures to ensure the EU is not complicit either directly or indirectly in torture or executions beyond its borders. The regulation will now include a ban on marketing and promotion of such goods including exhibitions, trade fairs and advertising. This regulation, I believe, is an excellent example of the value-based trade on which trade policy should be focused and demonstrates that values can have, in the right circumstances, priority over business and over profits. Incredibly, in the modern world, torture is actually still on the increase and the use of the death penalty went up in the last three years for which have statistics.
Banning the death penalty and torture are key goals of European trade and foreign policy and it is essential that EU companies do not contribute to these practices.