This evening Anneliese answered constituents' questions about The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership during a live Facebook Q&A.
You can see the questions and Anneliese's answers below:
Question: I got a bulletin from 38 Degrees saying the BBC have seen leaked documents which show the NHS has NOT been taken out of TTIP… is that a false claim?
Answer: I’m a member of 38 degrees and so got the bulletin as well. They’re referring to the ‘initial offer’ from the EU side for TTIP, which was leaked recently. This appears to have been the basis for the UK government’s claim that TTIP would not cover the NHYS, since the text (cf http://news.bbc.co.uk/.../bsp/hi/pdfs/26_02_2015_ttip.pdf) appears to reserve the right for governments to take any measure they deem appropriate in relation to certain kinds of publicly-funded healthcare. However, some fear that this is not a watertight-enough exemption.
I can understand why people do not feel it is strong enough, and would repeat what I said in relation to Liam's second question; if the NHS is not potentially threatened, it is unclear why other governments have taken the step to state they will seek exclusion of certain public services from TTIP. I genuinely do not understand why the UK government cannot do the same for the NHS, which would put the issue beyond doubt and constitute a watertight exemption.
Follow up question: You appear to be saying that some people see the document as showing the NHS is protected and other the opposite?! ... what a ridiculous state of affairs that is if I have read it correctly ... who is in a position to clarify things?
Follow up answer: I agree that it is a bit ridiculous. My own view is that if there is a doubt there, it would not cost anything for the UK government to state it will exclude the NHS, and I feel taking a precautionary approach would be sensible, not least because other governments have done this.
Follow up question: I would like to see some evidence of who has benefited from previous agreements though - see my comment on another question - but I guess that might not be possible for you to produce, and as you sound sceptical of TTIP I don't suppose you think there is such evidence anyway?
Follow up answer: I think the evidence from the agreement with Korea is quite interesting. There is quite a bit of info available about the nature of the agreement and its developing impact, because the EU is involved in monitoring its implementation on an on-going basis (cf, for example, http://ec.europa.eu/.../countries.../countries/south-korea/and http://trade.ec.europa.eu/.../2011/october/tradoc_148303.pdf). As mentioned in response to one of the other questions, most assessments suggest that the EU-Korea agreement has enabled EU exporters to substantially increase their exports to Korea, so it has been very good for those companies engaged in this trade.
So, please don't get me wrong, I'm not sceptical of increasing global trade- quite the opposite!- but that has to go along with getting the rules right so that trade is conducted on a fair as well as a free basis. Some people appear to oppose TTIP because they don't support free trade, which I think is a bit silly given that it can help allocate resources much more efficiently over the long run.
Nonetheless, that trade, as I mentioned, has to be properly regulated. If we were able to use TTIP to push up regulatory standards, in both the EU and US, it could be a very positive measure. But I think we need to assess whether it will do this very carefully, and also continue to make clear that certain sectors (like the NHS) are so important that they shouldn't be subject to competition in this way, and finally that the ability of governments to make decisions in these areas are not compromised from fear of potential action being taken against them by ISDS.
Question: Some think this means all contracts will go abroad.I assume this is a myth?
Answer: Thanks very much for taking part and for your pertinent question. While it probably is a myth that 'all' contracts would go abroad, it is difficult to predict at this stage what the exact impact of a trade deal would be. Any trade deal (and particularly one as comprehensive as TTIP is foreseen to be) is likely to benefit sectors in different countries dependent on their comparative efficiency. This is good overall because it means resources are allocated as efficiently as possible, but it does mean that those working in less efficient industrial sectors will lose out in the short run. So I think the question we need to think about is which areas the EU has a comparative strength in, and how we can ensure that these would benefit from an agreement; and, where industries might be less efficient, what can we do to support people working in them if they're likely to be disadvantaged.
I have talked to a number of advanced manufacturers and service companies from the UK who are strongly in favour of a deal because they are confident that they could increase their market share if trade was made more open with the US (which currently can discriminate against EU firms through measures like 'Buy America'- which would not be legal in the EU).
We do need to take these issues seriously I think when we assess what the potential impact of a deal would be. There is a big debate going on about the potential impact on employment of TTIP, and while some feel that it would likely benefit the EU overall (particularly if we look at what happened with the EU-Korea trade deal for example, where exports from the EU increased substantially after it was implemented), others can point to deals like NAFTA which caused a lot of disruption in local labour markets.
Question: Can Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) be fixed, or should it be scrapped altogether?
Answer: As you probably know, Investor State Dispute Settlement refers to a mechanism for resolving trade disputes which is separate from domestic courts and which involves the creation of international courts. In the past these have tended to work in private, without public scrutiny, and have been dominated by trade lawyers. Some of the decisions taken by ISDS in the part has arguably gone against the interest of the public. So for example ISDS has been used successfully in different countries to stall government action against smoking and to introduce a minimum wage.
I can understand why there may be a need for ISDS if we are talking about trade deals with countries where there is endemic corruption and where domestic courts cannot be trusted. That is not the case, however, with any of the countries within the EU or with the US. Indeed, I have not been able to find any evidence of any private investors being discriminated against by domestic courts anywhere within the EU or the US. As a result, I don't think there's any place for ISDS in TTIP. Both Labour MEPs, and our group (the Socialists and Democrats) have said this time and again, and in fact this morning we reiterated our opposition to ISDS in TTIP.
Follow up question: What will you do if ISDS is not removed from TTIP?
Follow up answer: We will keep working on this issue because we do not think there is any place for ISDS within agreements between democratic countries. If we do not get to a satisfactory outcome and I do not see the removal of secret courts, I will not support TTIP, simple as that.
In this connection, you may be interested in Bernd Lange MEP's comments on this issue today (he is the chair of the International Trade Committee in the European Parliament, and also the author of the parliamentary report on TTIP); he said: ""The rule of law and independent courts must not be questioned in trade agreements. Opaque private arbitration can only benefit those looking to make a profit and has no place in trade agreements between fully fledged democracies. If the European Commission does not want to risk the failure of CETA and TTIP, it should take action and must take our group’s position into account. Otherwise there will be no majority for these agreements in the European Parliament."
Question: There is speculation that, as a result of this treaty, gun manufacturers from the US will be able to take the UK Government to court if we do not relax our gun ownership laws to enable them to be able to sell their products in the UK (and the rest of the EU).
Answer: That's an interesting point which I haven't heard before so I'm grateful to you for raising it. As I understand it, policies in relation to criminal justice, including gun control, should not be compromised by trade agreements concluded by the EU. I would have thought that any US gun manufacturer would be on very shaky grounds if they tried to 'force' a way into EU markets by challenging the current situation, since there are of course national rules on gun control in every EU country.
I suppose some of the concern in this area may have been generated by worries about the potential impact of Investor State Dispute Settlement, if that were to challenge the decisions of sovereign states in this area? As stated above, both Labour MEPs and the Socialist and Democrat group of MEPs as a whole do not want ISDS within TTIP as it is not appropriate when governments in the EU and US are perfectly capable of (and do) treat investors fairly within their domestic justice systems.
Question: There are real and persistent concerns over the democratic legitimacy of the TTIP agreement. Isn't it fair to say that the sovereign power over the negotiation process is owned by the Commission and the Council and not by the European Parliament or the parliaments of the member states?
Answer: You're certainly right that the Commission is doing the negotiating on the agreement, rather than the European or other Parliaments doing this. Nonetheless, the European Parliament will have a vote at the end of the negotiations on whether it wants to accept the agreement, plus national parliaments may be involved if it ends up being a so-called 'mixed' agreement.
In addition, I think it's important for MEPs to do what they can to raise constituents' concerns on this - and on other issues. Labour MEPs have been using all the mechanisms available to them to try and make sure that the NHS and other public services will not be covered by TTIP, and to argue against the inclusion of ISDS within the deal. We have publicly questioned the Trade Commissioner on TTIP and have been scrutinising documents concerning TTIP that have been made available to MEPs. As far as I'm concerned, it's my job to try and do something about this!
Question: Is the NHS for sale?
Answer: Unfortunately a lot of our NHS has been for sale under the Coalition government, and I don't want TTIP to make that worse! For that reason Labour MEPs are arguing for two things. First of all, we want public services like the NHS to be explicitly excluded from TTIP. The EU's trade commissioner has said that it will not cover the NHS, but we need to see this in black and white. Secondly, I want the British government to explicitly exclude the UK's NHS from being covered by TTIP. Other countries have done this with different sectors and it is unclear why the UK government is not willing to do so with the NHS.
Follow up question: Is there a link we can follow to see what is been written in black and white?
Follow up answer: Some of the documentation about TTIP has been released, under pressure from socialist MEPs and others. So, you can read the negotiating 'mandate' which was produced by the Commission in October, here: http://data.consilium.europa.eu/.../ST-11103-2013.../en/pdf
As mentioned in an earlier response, another document has been leaked, which is the EU's initial offer for the negotiations (the link is in my response to him).
Most of the other documents are so far, however, not yet accessible. I think that is a shame and that there should be more transparency.
MEPs have been allowed to consult some of the documents in a special reading room, where we are not able to copy the documents and need to promise not to reveal their contents. From what I read there, many of my concerns were alleviated, but not all of them- but of course, I cannot go into detail on this.
It's not clear to me, after that experience of reading the documents, why there couldn't be more transparency. It could be possible, for example, to use the approach that has been taken in relation to some environmental agreements, where the different positions are indicated in brackets where there isn't yet agreement.
I think more transparency would lead to a more focused and informed debate about TTIP.
Question: How does it benefit the working class?
Answer: In terms of how TTIP would benefit the working class- well, that is a moot question. The evidence is pretty mixed on how trade agreements affect different sectors and as a result, different parts of the workforce. Overall the evidence shows that balanced trade deals have had a positive impact on the European economy. For example, the EU-Korea agreement has resulted in an increase in EU exports to Korea of over a third in three years, with the UK having benefited the most from the increase in trade. That has, most people would say, benefited working people. But given that the content of TTIP is still being decided, it is impossible to be exact at this stage about its potential impact on jobs and growth. The European Commission (the EU’s civil service) has argued that TTIP could increase exports by up to a third, particularly benefiting manufacturing- which would obviously be good for working people. Others have disputed the Commission’s figures though. Regardless of the potential impact of TTIP on jobs, however, it must not come at the price of the UK’s NHS, nor of our strong EU human health and animal welfare standards.
Question: How can we be 100% sure that our NHS is protected?
Answer: The UK Coalition government has consistently maintained that the NHS isn't covered by TTIP. But people are understandably sceptical of this when some other countries have excluded public services like health from the agreement for their countries, and when we cannot see the full text of what is being negotiated. I want the UK government to explicitly exclude the NHS from TTIP so that we can be sure on this point.