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Fears over Cameron’s ‘rocket boosters’ TTIP pledge

Cameron at the G20: He reckons he has put "rocket boosters" on the planned TTIP agreement. But is it just a lot of hot air?

Cameron at the G20: He reckons he has put “rocket boosters” on the planned TTIP agreement. But is it just a lot of hot air?

Does anyone else think David Cameron’s pledge to put “rocket boosters” on plans for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has more to do with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s doubts about the project than anything else?

A little more than two weeks ago, Mr Juncker announced that he was reviewing part of the proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States of America – the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) scheme, a part of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement that critics say would make it possible for corporations to sue national governments for damages if new legislation was likely to affect their profitability.

(Note that a BBC report has described it as an element of TTIP which “would allow foreign investors to go to an international tribunal for compensation if a government breaks the rules”. This is not true – Mr Juncker has stated that the Commission “will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes” – but what can we expect from a BBC that is hopelessly enslaved to Conservative ideology?)

According to the BBC, Cameron claimed that EU and US leaders had all agreed that TTIP “is a deal we want”. Oh really?

The report goes on to say he “‘sensed an enthusiasm'” – honestly, visit the site and read it yourself if you think Yr Obdt Srvt is making it up! – “from EU leaders and US President Barack Obama during a meeting in Brisbane earlier, and was now ‘hopeful of progress’ on TTIP.”

So did they actually say they wanted this deal to go through? Or is Cameron just talking through his hat again?

Conservative ministers seem to be making a habit of coming back from meetings with foreign ministers with an extravagant claim, only for it to fall apart under examination – look at George Osborne’s disastrous failure over the EU surcharge.

Regarding the concern Mr Juncker raised over ISDS, Cameron blathered: “We’ve signed trade deal after trade deal and it’s never been a problem in the past.” How reassuring. But those trade deals were not the same as this, and it is right that Mr Juncker should examine the evidence critically in the light of public outcry. Cameron really has no power in this matter; it is an agreement between the EU – not the UK – and America.

Cameron also tried to make light of fears that ISDS would ‘lock in’ his changes to the English National Health Service, and make it possible to lock them into the health service in other parts of the UK if they fall under Tory control in the future. “There’s no threat, I believe, from TTIP to the National Health Service,” he wibbled, “and we should just knock that on the head as an empty threat.” Again, how reassuring. But he provided no guarantees and we should not believe him if he did.

You see, Cameron wants to lock his changes into the NHS, and he sees TTIP as the mechanism for achieving this.

His problem is that talks are proceeding at a pace that means any agreement will take place after the UK’s General Election in May next year – and an elected Labour government would repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which allowed private healthcare firms to cherry-pick services in the English NHS, the very next day.

This is one reason you should ignore claims that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is unelectable. Cameron is clearly terrified that he will lose power before he can hammer the final nail in the coffin of public healthcare in the UK.

His claims that all involved are keen to accelerate the TTIP agreement with “rocket boosters” are just – appropriately – gusts of hot air.

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Is ISDS the TTIP-ping point for Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker.

This is shaping up to be a very bad week for David Cameron.

Not only is his ‘welfare reform’ plan a laughing-stock after the DWP was revealed to be posting fake tweets about Universal Credit; not only was he struck by a passing jogger when he was in Leeds to discuss the (don’t laugh) High Speed 3 project (less than a week after a man threw a bag of marbles at hime during Prime Minister’s Questions); but now…

His much-cherished plan to ‘lock in’ privatisation of National Health services in England is in jeopardy after incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced a review of the relevant part of a proposed trade agreement with the United States of America.

The decision must pile insult on top of injury for Cameron, who launched a famously lonely campaign to prevent Juncker’s appointment as president, attracting almost no support at all from his EU colleagues (only Hungary supported him) and confirming the catastrophic loss of influence the UK has suffered in the European Union under Cameron’s premiership.

Mr Juncker said the Investor-State Dispute Settlement scheme – a part of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement that critics say would make it possible for corporations to sue national governments for damages if new legislation was likely to affect their profitability – would be reviewed.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Juncker said: “I took note of the intense debates around investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.

“My Commission will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes. The rule of law and the principle of equality before the law must also apply in this context… There will be nothing that limits for the parties the access to national courts or that will allow secret courts to have the final say in disputes between investors and States.”

He said he had taken control over the ISDS process away from Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and handed it to Frans Timmermans, the incoming, and first, Vice-President in charge of the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. “There will be no investor-to-state dispute clause in TTIP if Frans does not agree with it too,” he said.

The Financial Times has reported that Juncker made his decision “largely at the behest of Germany, which has turned sour on ISDS”. This will rub salt into the recently-opened wound caused when the EU billed the UK an extra £1.7 billion for membership, based on calculations of our economic improvement (Germany is getting a rebate).

“Germany’s misgivings have in turn fed into a more generalised distemper with global trade across the EU, encompassing the French far right and fringe parties elsewhere. They claim ISDS has morphed into a tool of multinational companies that use the arbitration panels to circumvent, or even alter, national laws at their whim,” the paper reported.

This is exactly what has caused hundreds of thousands of people to complain to the European Commission after details of the TTIP proposals were leaked from secret meetings.

Even now, TTIP remains largely unreported by the mass media here in the UK, which is mainly run by right-wing, pro-privatisation moguls. Mr Juncker announced his decision in a speech on October 22 – a week ago – but the only British newspaper to report it was the FT.

For Cameron, the humiliation is just as bad, whether the media reports it or not.

This is not a victory for campaigners against ISDS or the TTIP – although Mr Juncker’s decision may discourage the United States from taking the project further. It remains as important as ever that anyone with an objection needs to make that objection known.

But it is a good sign.

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Did you hear the one about Labour and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

140115TTIP

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.”

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