The Highland News, February 2015
Negotiating trade agreements with countries, or groups of countries outside of the EU is an important part of my work within the Parliament’s International Trade Committee. At present the committee is very much 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’).
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.
Last month I addressed a major one of these concerns - the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and stressed that Labour MEPs will continue to put pressure on the Commission to exclude ISDS in the TTIP agreement. However, as constituents are regularly informing me, ISDS is not the only aspect of TTIP that is causing alarm. There is much concern that TTIP may be a threat to the NHS. EU trade agreements have always included provisions for national governments to keep services such as healthcare publically-run and Labour MEPs consider it essential for EU Member States to be able to nationalise, or re-nationalise, any industry which it considers a public utility. Nothing at EU level can force privatisation: only the UK or Scottish governments have the ability to privatise the NHS. I and my colleagues will continue to monitor negotiations and scrutinise the final agreement to ensure these provisions are included and fully effective.
We would also not support any agreement which sought to lower EU food or environment standards. Regulatory bodies are those that, amongst other things, work to protect people from risks to health, ensure safety at work and protect the environment. These bodies in the EU and the USA usually share these aims but have different methods of regulating them. These different methods pose a hurdle to small companies seeking to sell their products in another country outside the EU, and ‘Regulatory Convergence’ is a term that is used to describe agreeing to one method, acceptable to both. It is important that the European Commission upholds its promise that regulatory convergence will not result in the lowering of any present EU standards, for example our chemicals standards that prevent chlorinated chicken, or hormone-treated beef or that our current rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not be weakened. I welcome these assurances but of course will continue to monitor the negotiations to ensure they are fulfilled.
Another important issue is ‘transparency’. This means having access to documents and reports so as to be fully informed about what is being negotiated. TTIP is an important agreement that may have considerable implications for us all, so the public rightly want to know what is being agreed on their behalf. After pressure from Labour and Socialist & Democrat MEPs the negotiating mandate has been published and this can be accessed via internet search engines. Labour MEPs will continue to press for more transparency which we believe is essential as the negotiations progress.