Friday, 2 May 2014

Transatlantic trade agreement is a threat to health and sovereignty of UK citizens, says Roger

Roger is concerned that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States, poses a severe threat to the UK’s public services and its regulatory standards in a number of areas including safety, food hygiene, workers’ rights and environmental protection.
The idea behind TTIP is to level the differences between European and American regulations and so promote trade. In practice, however, trade barriers between the EU and the USA are already extremely low, and the effect of TTIP would be to drag regulations down to the lowest existing standard in each area, removing protections for people both as consumers and as citizens.

The Conservatives’ constant mantra is that red tape must be cut, but some rules--such as those on workers’ rights, food safety or the use of toxic chemicals--were put in place for very good reasons. For example, in the European Union it is illegal to sell beef which has been produced using growth hormones which have been linked to cancer in humans, or to sell poultry which has been washed with chlorine. These laws do not apply in the US, and TTIP would remove the legal barriers which prevent companies from selling meat produced in these ways in the EU or in the UK. In the EU almost no GM food is sold due to widespread consumer opposition, but in the US almost 70% of processed foods contain genetically modified organisms. TTIP would remove the legal barriers which prevent GM food being sold in the EU, legislating in accordance with food companies’ desire to reach new markets rather than citizens’ need for safe, natural food.

The picture is similar for environmental legislation, where standards are currently much higher in the EU than the US. TTIP would bring deregulation across a wide range of sectors, and remove hard-won regulations which protect human rights and the planet above corporations’ right to make a profit. The consequences of this would be dire for Americans as well as Europeans. While the EU would be under threat from the USA’s lower standards on consumer safety and employment law, American citizens would suffer from the introduction of the EU’s looser financial regulations, with the potential loss of the tighter regulation brought in since the financial crash. American businesses would suffer from the loss of the popular “Buy America” scheme to support local enterprise and jobs, while European workers would be under threat from lower US labour standards and poorer trade-union rights. TTIP would introduce a race to the bottom on the standards which help to protect people’s livelihoods as well as their health.

Also of serious concern is the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism which is included in TTIP. This would give companies the power to bypass the courts, and to use private tribunals to sue governments for enacting legislation which protected people or the environment at the expense of corporate profits. Roger said: “This sounds absurd, but it is already happening. The government of Argentina froze utility bills, only to be sued for lost profits by the transnational water and energy companies whose greed had caused bills to reach such a high level. Tobacco company Philip Morris is suing the governments of Australia and Uruguay over their policies on cigarette packaging, which were brought in to protect the health of their citizens. I do not want to see the UK in this situation.”

TTIP also contains provisions to remove distinctions between public and private providers of services, and between national and foreign providers. In practice, this would put the BBC, the NHS and the UK’s comprehensive schools under threat from transnational corporations. The UK’s public sector would be privatised even further, with a consequent lowering of standards and loss of public accountability. Roger commented: “Essential public services, such as health and education, are called ‘public’ for a reason. When these services are provided by the UK Government, they are accountable to UK citizens in a way which they simply would not be if they were provided by transnational corporations which, unlike the NHS, have absolutely no ethos of serving the public good rather than increasing shareholder profits at all costs.”

Roger said: “I am extremely worried about the possible effects of many of the provisions in TTIP on my constituents and on people throughout the UK. What is perhaps most concerning, however, is that these negotiations are taking place in secret. Most people are not even aware of TTIP, and the treaty is being negotiated without the chance for proper public scrutiny. Astonishingly, the European Commission intends to block public access to all documents on the TTIP negotiations for the next 30 years, prioritising companies’ desire for secrecy over the well-being of citizens.”

“I do not believe that most people in the UK would be happy to see food safety standards drastically lowered, or multinational conglomerates given the right to sue the UK Government--at taxpayer expense, of course--for enacting legislation which protects people’s health or the environment. This is deeply undemocratic, and I do not think people want this. I therefore call on the Government to act with greater openness and transparency with regards to this treaty, and for once to act in the best interests of UK citizens rather than to protect multinational companies’ profits. It is completely unnecessary and extremely dangerous to hand over any more power to greedy, unscrupulous corporations at the expense of the people of this country.”

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