It refers to Article XXIV of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which you can read here.
The suggestion is that trading terms at the formation of a customs union between two territories, or during an interim period prior to the introduction of such a union, may not be higher than previously existed between those countries, and that there must be a plan to form a full customs union within “a reasonable length of time”.
How that translates into saying that the EU must offer the UK continued free trade for at least 10 years is anybody’s guess!
I think The Independent was right when it said the people coming forward with this nonsense had got it backwards:
“Trade experts say this covers the circumstances of two countries forming a new trade agreement, not of them leaving one. And they insist that those who cite it as a reason why nothing has to change on trade after Brexit are labouring under a gross misunderstanding of the rule.
“’The idea that Article XXIV…somehow obliges the EU to continue providing the full benefits of the single market for the next ten years, or even allows the UK to unilaterally offer the EU (and no one else) market access is preposterous,’ says Dmitry Grozoubinski, a former Australian trade negotiator.
“In any case the overriding concern of industry resulting from a no-deal Brexit is not actually tariffs but the negative impact of border checks resulting from leaving the EU’s customs union and single market.”
So if anybody tries to tell you that a “no deal” Brexit is no problem because free trade will continue, you tell them they’re either fatally weak-minded or a damned liar.
Apparently somebody said Labour supported this hugely controversial scheme, and lots of people believed it.
In fact, the claim is doubly false. But first, a bit of background: You need to know that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a ‘free trade’ agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States of America. Unfortunately for most of us, the agreement as currently described would end democracy and put us at the mercy of international corporations.
This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS), which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments. You would lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Labour doesn’t want anything to do with an agreement that locks privatisation into the National Health Service, and TTIP – with the ISDS – would do exactly that. So Labour called for the NHS to be exempted from the conditions of the agreement, while remaining in broad support of the negotiations in the belief that the deal promised billions of pounds worth of jobs and economic growth.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fully behind TTIP and have ruled out any opt-out for the NHS. The Tories in particular see TTIP as an opportunity to lock-in the privatisation changes they have made to the NHS.
That is the situation that most people believe exists today. They are mistaken.
Labour’s National Policy Forum met at Milton Keynes recently, where a new stance towards TTIP was agreed. Members raised the question of other public services, besides the NHS, that a future Labour government might wish to return to public ownership. With the ISDS in its current form, it would be more or less impossible to return the railways, energy firms and water companies to public ownership in the public interest.
So the current policy is as follows (with thanks to @LabourLewis of the LabourLeft blog): “Labour believes that [the] key to an EU-US trade deal that we would encourage the rest of Europe to support, which avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth, would be safeguards and progress on labour, environmental, and health and safety standards. Labour has raised concerns over the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in TTIP. Labour believes that the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms.” [bolding mine]
This is unlikely to be Labour’s final position as many members believe the party should be even more strongly opposed to the agreement in its current form, as these concluding comments from @LabourLewis affirm: “I believe TTIP represents a free market model of the world economy that has failed the vast majority of us. The last 30 years have shown such a model of capitalism increases inequality and insecurity and leads to more frequent financial crashes.
“Simply tinkering on the margins will not be sufficient. A tad more regulation there, a bit more transparency here, a regulation over there, some restraint on executive pay over here.
“It simply won’t wash and a growing number of us, including our leader Ed Miliband, instinctively understand this.”
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, reckons he’s going to consult the public over the controversional Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the EU/US free trade agreement.
He says he is determined to strike the right balance between protecting EU firms’ investment interests and upholding governments’ right to regulate in the public interest.
Bear in mind, this is for the investment part of the deal, which includes investment protection and the red-hot disputed subject of investor-to-state dispute settlement, where firms would be allowed to sue governments if regulations got in the way of their profits, as the deal currently stands.
A proposed text for the investment part of the talks will be published in early March.
“Governments must always be free to regulate so they can protect people and the environment. But they must also find the right balance and treat investors fairly, so they can attract investment,” said Mr De Gucht.
“Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.
“I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal. Now I want them to have their say… TTIP will firmly uphold EU member states’ right to regulate in the public interest.”
Do you believe him?
The European Commission wants to use TTIP to improve provisions already in place that protect investments by EU-based companies in the US, and vice versa.
In practice, we are told, there would be a require for this protection to defer to states’ right to regulate in the public’s interest.
There would also be new and improved rules, including a code of conduct, to ensure arbitrators are chosen fairly and act impartially, and to open up their proceedings to the public. This comes after significant unrest about arbitrators being chosen exclusively from big business, with a natural bias towards the interests of their employers.
It seems “no other part of the negotiations is affected by this public consultation and the TTIP negotiations will continue as planned”.
Is this the only part of the deal that affects the public interest, then?
I don’t know. The TTIP negotiations have been shrouded in mystery since they began last June. Can anyone outside the talks – and those taking part are sworn to secrecy – say they are an expert?
Since the talks began, the Commission has held three rounds of consultations with stakeholders – big businesses operating in both Europe and the USA “to gather the views and wishes of the public and interested parties across Europe”, it says here.
“The Commission has also done public consultations before the start of the TTIP negotiations.” Have you taken part in any such negotiations?
The rationale behind the talks is that the EU is the world’s largest foreign direct investor and the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, so it must ensure that EU companies are well-protected when they invest in countries outside the EU. This involves reciprocal agreements to protect foreign companies.
“Investment is essential for growth, for jobs and for creating the wealth that pays for our public services, our schools, our hospitals and our pensions,” the argument goes. But who gets the wealth? The people who work to make it – whose living and working conditions are likely to be reduced dramatically to lowest-common-denominator terms? Or the company bosses who are ironing out the terms of this agreement while most of us are being told to look the other way?
Let’s look at an example of this in action. According to OpenDemocracy.net, the TTIP talks “could see England’s NHS tied into a privatised model semi-permanently.
“The idea [is] that the Health and Social Care Act was developed to allow foreign transnational corporations to profit from NHS privatisation.
“Even worse is the idea that, once passed, an international trade agreement will leave us irreversibly committed to privatising the NHS. Even with a change of government and the repeal of the Act, we’d be facing the insurmountable obstacle of international competition laws.”
The article demands that the government must be clear with the public – will our health service be opened to multinational business as part of this trade agreement?
Leftie politics sheet the New Statesman agrees: “This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain.
“The agreement will provide a legal heavy hand to the corporations seeking to grind down the health service. It will act as a Transatlantic bridge between the Health and Social Care Act in the UK, which forces the NHS to compete for contracts, and the private companies in the US eager to take it on for their own gain.
“It gives the act international legal backing and sets the whole shift to privatisation in stone because once it is made law, it will be irreversible.
“Once these ISDS tools are in place, lucrative contracts will be underwritten, even where a private provider is failing patients and the CCG wants a contract cancelled. In this case, the provider will be able to sue a CCG for future loss of earnings, causing the loss of vast sums of taxpayer money on legal and administrative costs.
“Even more worrying is that, once the TTIP is enacted, repealing the Health and Social Care Act in the UK will become almost impossible.”
The public has the democratic right to contest the agreement, and fight for a health service that protects them, the Statesman says, “but how can they when MEPs do nothing to inform opinion or gather support back home? The NHS is in a very precarious position. It seems that soon, with the help of Brussels, its fate will be sealed.”
Would you like your MEP to speak up for you – in other words, to do what he or she was elected to do and actually represent your interests? Then why not get in touch and ask why they’ve been so quiet about this for so long? It’s easy – you can find their contact details here.
The EU has released a ‘factsheet’ summarising how it would like you to understand changes to existing investment protection rules and the ISDS system.
The previous Vox Political article about TTIP is here.
The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.
Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.
“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.
“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.
“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.
“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.
“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”
Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.
You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.
So let’s give you some of the facts:
The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.
It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.
‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.
All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.
TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.
In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.
In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.
TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.
As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.
Trade agreements are effectively permanent.
Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.
As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.
‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.
The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).
TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!
The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.
Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.
In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.
You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is bitter pill for anyone to swallow, if they have spent any time defending Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The partnership between the EU and the United States would open America to the kind of free trade deals that have been going on in Europe ever since the original Economic Community was formed – but there is a problem.
It isn’t a problem for businesses; they are in line to get a deal better than anything ever experienced in the world of trade. Citizens and national governments, on the other hand – you, me, and the people who represent us – will be railroaded.
This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’, which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments.
In other words, this could be the biggest threat to democracy since World War II.
In the UK, it could be used by shale mining companies to ensure that the government could not keep them out of protected areas, by banks fighting financial regulation, and by cigarette companies fighting the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes. How do we know? Because these things are already happening elsewhere in the world.
If a product had been banned by a country’s regulators, the manufacturer will be able to sue them, forcing that state to pay compensation or let the product in – even if this undermines health and safety laws in that country.
It seems that domestic courts are deemed likely to be biased or lack independence, but nobody has explained why they think the secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers will be impartial. Common sense says they’ll rule for the profit, every time.
Now ask yourself a question: Have you ever heard about this?
Chances are that you haven’t – unless you have read articles by George Monbiot (one in The Guardian this week prompted this piece) or have insider knowledge.
The European Commission has done its utmost to keep the issue from becoming public knowledge. Negotiations on the trade and investment partnership have involved 119 behind-closed-doors meetings with corporations and their lobbyists (please note that last point, all you supporters of the government’s so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill), and just eight with civil society groups. Now that concerned citizens have started to publicise the facts, the Commission has apparently worked out a way to calm us down with a “dedicated communications operation” to “manage stakeholders, social media and transparency” by claiming that the deal is about “delivering growth and jobs” and will not “undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment” – meaning it will do precisely the opposite.
Your Coalition government appears to be all for it. Kenneth Clarke reckons it is “Scrooge-like” to inflate concerns about investor protection and ignore the potential economic gains – but if the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is any yardstick, exports will drop and thousands of jobs will be lost.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has published an early day motion on the issue – signed by a total of seven fellow Parliamentarians so far.
Labour MEPs are doing their best to cut the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ out of the agreement, but they are fighting a lonely battle against the massed forces of greed.
So now ask yourself a second question: Why is the European Commission lying to Britain when we are already halfway out of the door?
Britain is not happy with the European Union or its place within that organisation. People think too much of their national sovereignty – their country’s freedom to do what it wants – is being stripped away by faceless bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of the population at heart. Now the European Commission is trying to foist this upon us.
For Eurosceptics in Parliament – of all political hues – this is a gift. For those of us who accept that we are better off in Europe – as it is currently constituted and without the new trade agreement – it is a poisoned pill.
Are we being pushed into a position where we have to choose between two evils that could have been avoided, if only our leaders had had an ounce of political will and an inch of backbone?
The British people’s support for staying in the European Union is “wafer thin”, David Cameron told the CBI yesterday. Labour’s Ed Balls warned that the UK could “sleepwalk” away from its biggest trading partner at the same meeting.
Is it because most people don’t understand our relationship with the European economic area? Is it because they have been infected with propaganda from the right-wing press?
Is it because there really is a plan to make the UK a third-world country, and withdrawal from the EU is necessary to remove citizens’ human rights, thereby making them easier for the ruling class to exploit? The idea seems paranoid but the actions necessary for it to happen have been coming together.
Isn’t it time we had a public debate about the Union – how it works, how we function within it – in order to find out whether we really are better or worse-off? And why – considering all the bluster – hasn’t this happened already?
Let’s look at the main issues: cost of membership, perceived over-regulation, immigration, and our place on the world stage.
The UK contributes around 14 billion Euros (£11.9 billion) to the EU budget every year, but receives 10 billion Euros (£8.5 billion) back – so in fact we contribute £3.4 billion to other countries within the union; the UK is a net EU payer. A study by UKIP MEP Gerard Batten has claimed that red tape, waste, fraud and other factors adds another £62.3 billion a year to the cost.
But the EU is the UK’s main trading partner, with contracts worth more than £400 billion a year. That kind of money make the membership fee look like a pittance. And the EU has been negotiating with the US to create the world’s largest free trade area in a move that could hugely boost our businesses (although this has a huge potential downside that nobody is talking about).
Perhaps the problem is that the companies profiting from these trade deals aren’t paying their taxes properly? The UK Treasury should receive £92 billion at the current rate of Corporation Tax. How much does it actually get?
Let’s not forget that the Coalition government is trying (ineffectually) to pay down the annual deficit. Any money saved by leaving the EU would not go into domestic projects but would contribute to debt repayments. In effect, it would be dead money; at least, in the EU, it helps bring in business.
Okay, so it’s possible that the UK makes more cash from the EU than it spends on it. But what about all those pesky regulations bogging us down all the time? Wouldn’t we be better-off without them?
Sure – if we didn’t mind losing those £400 billion worth of trade deals. If the UK left the European Union but still wanted to trade with its member states, then we would still have to abide by EU regulations. UKIP’s Nigel Farage points to Norway and Switzerland as countries that have access to the single market without being bound by EU rules on agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs – but he doesn’t mention the fact that those countries must abide by EU market regulations without having any influence over how they are created.
A break from the EU, allowing the UK to trade with other nations around the world, means Britain’s exports would be subject to EU export tariffs – and would still have to meet EU production standards.
Yes, the EU burdens us with rules when it probably doesn’t have the right. Why does the EU dictate our policy on water? So there is room for negotiation – but within the Union.
Well, what about immigration? The UK has a huge problem with its borders having been opened up to millions of incomers – mostly from Eastern Europe, with millions more on the way next year, right? Wouldn’t leaving the EU put an end to that?
Yes. It would also put an end to Britons’ chances of living and working in EU countries. 711,151 UK citizens were living in other EU countries in 2011, according to Eurostat. Their right to work and live there might be restricted if Britain quit the union.
While 2.3 million EU citizens were living and working in the UK in 2011, their effect on the country’s economic well-being has been hugely exaggerated. There is no ‘open door’ immigration policy. The immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens. Meanwhile, they contribute to the local economy and pay their taxes.
The UK would definitely lose stature on the world stage. There can be no amicable divorce from the EU, as the other leading members are unlikely to allow this country any special privileges or influence. We would surrender our ability to influence EU policy while remaining hostage to EU decisions. The ‘special relationship’ with the United States would also be in jeopardy as that country has made it clear we are a more valuable ally as part of the EU.
As a member of the EU, Britain is viewed by many non-European manufacturers as a key point of access to the European market – but this reputation would be lost if the UK quit the union.
British banks and businesses also see membership as important because it provides access to crucial foreign markets.
Oh, and the UK would still have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the EU, even after ridding itself of the pesky Human Rights Act that ratifies so many EU employment laws and social protections that prevent Theresa May and her friends from exploiting us all.
Add it all up and the evidence seems clear: Britain is better off with Europe. Yes, there are problems, but these are matters for negotiation, not reasons to run away.
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