TRANSATLANTIC TRADE INVESTMENT AGREEMENT

 

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Public consultation on anti-democratic trade deal – a sham?

by Mike Sivier

140115TTIP

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.

"A US/EU Free Trade Agreement... will 'dismantle hurdles to trade in goods, services and investment' and 'make regulations and standards compatible on both sides'.

"The EU has already stated that 'certain "sensitive" sectors will require more negotiation' but that 'no sectors would be excluded from the deal completely'. David Cameron has stated such an agreement is one of his key aims during the UK’s leadership of the G8 group this year.

"The Health and Social Care Act’s Section 75 is an example of legislation guided by the principles of this overarching trade agreement. It breaks the NHS up into little parcels (the CCGs) that must offer their contracts to any willing provider. If a private provider feels they have been unfairly excluded from a contract, they can use Section 75 to take legal action... This legislation may have been written specifically to pave the way for international free trade involving the NHS.

"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.

RE-NOGTIATION OF OUR EU MEMBERSHIP

You do realise what David Cameron means when he says he wants to re-negotiate our membership of the European Union, don't you?

For a start, he means he wants to abolish laws that protect the human rights your ancestors fought tooth and nail to win for you.

He won't make any deals in your interest. That's not in his nature.

If he gets his way, you could lose the right to:

  • Written terms and conditions of work, and a job description - and the right to the same terms and conditions if transferred to a different employer.
  • Four weeks' paid leave from work per year.
  • Not be sacked for being pregnant, or for taking time off for ante-natal appointments.
  • Come back to work after maternity leave, on the same pay, terms and conditions as before the leave started.
  • Health and safety protection for pregnant women, new and breastfeeding mothers.
  • Parental leave.
  • Equal treatment for workers employed through an agency.
  • Tea and lunch breaks during the working day for anyone working six hours or more
  • One day off per week.
  • Time off for urgent family reasons.

In addition, Cameron could relieve employeers of the legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including undertaking risk assessments, acting to minimise risks, informing workers of risks, and consulting on health and safety with employees and their representatives. In his cost-cutting brave new Britain you'd just have to take your chances.

Health and safety representatives from trade unions could lose the right to ask employers to make changes in order to protect workers' health and safety, and they would lose their protection against unfair treatment by their employer for carrying out their duties in relation to this.

The ban on forcing children less than 13 years of age into work could be lost, along with the limit on the hours children aged 13 or more and young people can work.

Children who could then be forced into work, regardless of the effect on their education, would have no rules protecting their health and safety, and the rules that say they can only be employed doing "light work" could also be abolished.

Protection from discrimination or harassment at work on grounds of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation - direct or indirect - could be dropped.

And the right of disabled people to expect their employers to make reasonable adjustments for them at work could also be abolished.

These are just your rights at work!

Cameron himself has said, as leader of the Opposition: "I do not believe it is appropriate for social and employment legislation to be dealt with at the European level. It will be a top priority for the next Conservative government to restore social and employment legislation to national control.”

And as Prime Minister: “Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that's been visited on our businesses.”

To find out what he meant by those words, we must turn to the former leader of the British Conservative MEPs, Martin Callanan, who said: "One of the best ways for the EU to speed up growth is to ... scrap the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs in Europe.”

Of course, they distort the facts. These rules aren't barriers to employing people at all; they are structures within which people may be employed responsibly.

The Tories want to ban responsibility in the workplace. They want a return to dangerous employment conditions, abuse of workers and the removal of any legal protection from such abuse that they may have.

They will tear apart your rights at work.

So, if you are living in the UK and you've got a job, please take a moment to consider what this means for you. You might agree with the Coalition on its benefits policy that has led to thousands of deaths of sick and disabled people; you might agree with its bedroom tax and too-low benefit cap that has led to a rapid rise in debt and homelessness among the unemployed and those on low wages.

But now you know they're coming for you, too.

What are you going to do about it?

Are you going to sit on your thumbs and do nothing - just meekly wait for them to rock up and tell you they've abolished all your rights at work and you can now go and slave for them in appalling conditions with absolutely no legal protection at all?

In other words, when it's you that's threatened, are you going to let it happen, just like you let it happen to the sick, disabled, unemployed and low-waged?

Or are you going to take action and make a difference?

It doesn't take much. You could write to David Cameron and to your MP at the House of Commons. You could email them - just look up the addresses on They Work For You, or you could add your name to the letter being created by Unions Together. Yes, I know Mr Cameron says the unions are a bad thing, but in this case the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

As the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Glenis Willmott MEP, says: "Our rights at work are not 'red tape' to be slashed away. Don’t let Cameron and the Tories get away with this great European scam."

THE EUROPEAN UNION : THE FACTS

 

 

 

 

 

    It's estimated (although the source is murky) that 3.5m jobs are associated with EU membership. That's not to say those jobs are dependent on EU membership.

    About half of UK exports are to other EU countries, although we are a net importer from the EU. [Correction: Originally we said wrongly said the UK is a net exporter to the EU. That is true of services alone, but when you take into account goods and services, we are a net importer].

    The UK is a net contributor to the EU budget, but governments have estimated that the financial benefits of membership in terms of trade and employment outweigh this cost, as the House of Common Library explains.

    The EU has a significant impact on UK law. Attempts to put a number on this are probably best left alone. Estimates of the proportion of UK laws that originate in Brussels range anywhere from 7% to 75% depending on what you count and when. However, these estimates alone can’t quantify the importance of the laws involved.

THE simple “yes or no” question British voters will be asked in an EU referendum was finally unveiled last night. With the Tories in turmoil, David Cameron bowed to backbench pressure and published a Bill promising a vote on the EU by the end of 2017. oters will be asked: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” When it was put to the PM that the Bill was a panicked attempt to buy off Tory rebels, he replied: “Not at all. “The whole reason that we are now having this debate is because of the act of leadership I gave. “People need to know that this is a serious pledge that they can bank.”

But his decision to publish a backbench Bill simply deepened Tory divisions.

Leading rebel John Baron dismissed the PM’s offer as “second-best” and demanded a full government Bill instead, which would guarantee a debate on the issue. Another Tory MP, Philip Hollobone, said: “It is undignified and there is some chaos in Number 10 this week.”