The campaigns to stop the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) continue apace. And the same holds true for the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA). And we can’t afford to sit back and hope for the best, because our own government, the UK government is doing its best to make sure that TTIP and CETA are agreed in a form that is designed to do untold damage to our society, our social fabric, the regulations that protect us as workers, as consumers, as patients, and as citizens of this one earth.
ISDS – a paradise for big law firms and corporate power: and the UK is set to cash in
It is quite extraordinary; here are two trade agreements which are hailed as absolutely essential for growth and jobs; the concerns of the public about the Investor State Dispute Settlement Process (ISDS) are dismissed by government as unfounded; the argument that we have a perfectly good legal system that should be good enough for foreign investors if it good enough for domestic businesses are dismissed.
Why is our government so convinced that this ISDS mechanism is necessary? And then you find the answer where you least expected it: a document issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Trade and Industry sometime in 2011 and called: Plan for Growth: Promoting the UK’s Legal Services Sector provides the answer.
Under the heading ‘Some of the benefits of the UK legal sector’ it states that:
(the UK is a) Global leader in international and commercial arbitrations – more of these take place in London under English law than in any other city in the world. Ninety per cent of commercial cases handled by London law firms now involve an international party.
And further on:
International dispute resolution continues to grow – the total number of disputes resolved through arbitration and mediation in the UK reached 34,541 in 2009, up from 19,384 in 2007. The arbitration Act 1996 provides a mechanism for the enforcement of arbitration awards in the UK. Dispute resolution has also been enhanced by last year’s new legal framework for arbitration in Scotland, the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010 and the establishment of a Scottish Arbitration Centre.
And under the heading ‘what we have done so far’ it goes on:
Opening up markets through trade negotiations – we have worked hard to conclude Free Trade Agreements (FTA) so that UK legal services can access more overseas markets. The EU-South Korea FTA, for example, will open up the market on 1 July 2011, bringing significant work for UK legal services. Alongside government negotiations, the Law Society promoted links between Korean and UK law firms through legal trade missions, with UKTI and British Embassy support. We intend to replicate this partnership approach in trade negotiations with other countries.
So how does that sit with reassurances that ISDS won’t impact on the Government’s ability to regulate (or the EU’s ability to regulate for the benefit of all Member States)?
What is clear is the fact that this government is prepared to open itself up to being sued by foreign investors in arbitration tribunals just so their mates in the legal profession can make loads of money. How crazy is that?
Tackling the secrecy of the negotiations
One of the major criticisms of the TTIP negotiations has been the lack of transparency. The negotiating mandate the European Commission was secret; corporate lobbyists had more access to negotiators and the negotiation basis than civil society or elected representatives in the European Parliament. Eventually, the European Parliament got some access to documents; in a locked ‘reading room’ which only a small selection of MEPs were allowed to access. A group of MEPs decided to draw attention to this by staging a demonstration in front of the locked reading room.
A little light at the end of the tunnel
But finally, there is a bit of a chink of light; I have reported before that both the German government and the new President of the European Commission are not so sure that ISDS is a good idea; and MEPs have protested that the Canada EU Agreement (CETA) has been finalised before the public response to the consultation on TTIP has been analysed and evaluated even though TTIP text on ISDS is based on CETA.
A clear statement that this is unacceptable from UK MEP Judith Kirton Darling is useful to listen to. The debate is available on-line here and Judith Kirton Darling speaks at 21:32:10 (you can access the timeslot by scrolling through the speakers).
And finally, some good news that follows from this: the negotiating mandate has been published; we can now all read it here.
But although we can now read it, the news isn’t good!
I haven’t examined it in detail yet. But I have read through it briefly and there are two things that are clear: one is that the liberalisation of public procurement is writ large across it; in plain text that means if public authorities -governments, local governments, publicly owned organisations and so on – want to purchase goods or services, they have to open up such purchasing to international (in the case US) competition.
The EU is prepared to give up any kind of protection of local businesses and work forces in this context. The critical bit of text is: ‘The Agreement shall also include rules and disciplines to address barriers having a negative impact on each others’ public procurement markets, including local content or local production requirements’.
And there is no protection from foreign providers regarding the NHS; civil society, unions and other have long argued that the NHS should be exempt so that it’s basis – a service that is free at the point of delivery and is national, i.e. a public service – is protected.
The UK government has made no effort to gain such an exemption. The NHS safe in their hands? I don’t think so.
We have to continue to work against these two agreements; the key safeguard we have is the European Parliament; they can say yes or no to this. Tell your MEP what you think.
And if your MEP has already done good work to stop TTIP – like Jude Kirton Darling, thank them for the work they are doing and the success they have already chalked up.