The Highland News, January 2015
An important priority for the European Union is to open up market opportunities for European businesses outside of the EU. One way of ensuring this is through negotiating agreements with countries, or groups of countries outside of the EU. These Free Trade Agreements are designed to open new markets, increase investment opportunities and reduce customs duties and tariffs.
As a member of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee I am at present involved in debating the European Commission’s negotiation of a trade agreement with the United States called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP - commonly referred to as ‘tee-tip’).
A good agreement between the EU and US has the potential to give the EU economy a significant boost by increasing trade and helping job creation by making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses in Scotland to export to the US. A trade deal would cover almost half of world trade, and a good TTIP could begin to set global standards. But is imperative that we get it right. Stakeholders, such as trade unions, consumer groups, business groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the general public are all becoming increasingly aware, and concerned, about this agreement and its possible implications.
One of these concerns is the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). This is a provision in some agreements to give foreign investors legal recourse if they feel the country in which they are operating has passed discriminatory legislation and the Commission has indicated that it intends to continue the use of ISDS provisions in some EU investment agreements.
I do not believe that the inclusion of ISDS provisions in investment agreements is a necessary provision, furthermore, ISDS and the lack of transparency which has traditionally surrounded it has given far too much power to corporations which are able to challenge legislation behind closed doors. I am also concerned that ISDS could threaten a government's ability to legitimately legislate on issues for the public good, including health, environmental and labour rights issues. I do not believe these should be challenged by private companies behind closed doors.
Labour MEPs will continue to oppose the inclusion of ISDS in trade and investment agreements and we are working with our sister parties in the European Parliament to continue to put pressure on the Commission to exclude ISDS in the TTIP agreement.
As I am regularly informed by my constituents, ISDS is certainly not the only concern surrounding the TTIP agreement. There are issues regarding the possible lowering of EU food or environmental standards, fears about public services and the NHS and anger at the lack of transparency in the negotiating procedure. I hope to address these issues in later columns. In the meantime I would encourage readers to keep informed with the regular briefings and discussions on the TTIP negotiations that are open to the public and webstreamed and with the public documents that are available online at the European Parliament’s website (www.europarl.europa.eu). There is also a dedicated TTIP Commission twitter account to stay up-to-date (@EU_TTIP_team).