Calling time on TTIP

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Emma Woodford [YouTube]

Emma Woodford [YouTube]

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Needs to reformulate its priorities and base itself on the founding values of the European Union, writes Emma Woodford.

Emma Woodford is interim Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

The 6th round of negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US negotiators are being conducted this week in Brussels. The deal is aimed at strengthening trade between these two global powers by reducing barriers to trade such as tariffs and different regulations between the two trading partners. While it is sometimes necessary in this globalized world to welcome trade as a driver for growth and even greater interconnectedness with different parts of the world, it is essential that the quest for better living standards and more jobs includes public interest as a driving force in the negotiations.

If developed in participation with European and US citizens, agreements such as TTIP have the potential to bring greater social as well as corporate benefits. As it stands, the deal is instead designed to primarily protect private investments; the negative repercussions of which will be felt for decades to come.

TTIP negotiations should be conducted in the spirit of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth that supports a high level of well-being on both sides of the Atlantic. Unlike most European Union legislation, a proper impact assessment of TTIP was not done before the negotiations started. It is therefore unclear what the full implications are of regulatory convergence will be in the EU and the US. This adds fuel to the fears that an overzealous emphasis on regulatory convergence will weaken public health protection and social rights for people living in both regions. The impulse to reduce regulatory divergences could also have a negative impact on sectors such as data protection, intellectual property rights (IPRs), financial services, environmental protection and agriculture.

The health community is also extremely concerned with the chapter on technical barriers to trade (TBT) which we believe should not undermine governments’ ability to regulate in the areas of food and nutrition labeling, alcohol and tobacco.

Countries all over the world are facing the challenge of rapid increases in chronic diseases and life style related diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes and obesity. Looser regulatory frameworks that allow global firms to practice deceptive marketing practices would only serve to worsen this situation.  

With regards to services and public procurement, social criteria in public procurement in the EU may be seen as an obstacle to transatlantic competitiveness leading to a risk that public safeguards in Europe are wiped out in the pursuit of market gains. Essential public services should not be traded off on behalf of market access and the liberalisation of services. If they are, universal access to education, health and water will be compromised. Energy and transport services will also run the risk becoming the privilege of the few who can afford it. Essential public services – such as health services – should not be run for profit alone: they need to be accessible to everyone and meet high quality social and environmental standards. Health and social services have to be excluded from TTIP and European Member States must be free to design service delivery according to European social welfare models without fear of court action.

One of the most worrying elements of the TTIP negotiations is the possible inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. If this is eventually included, foreign investors will be empowered with the right to sue governments if they feel discriminated against when trying to access national or European markets. This includes cases brought to bear for changes in legislation that aims to repatriate health services back into government control. ISDS cases have already caused regulatory freezes in other major trade agreements with dire consequences to the public interest. The ISDS mechanism must be excluded from TTIP which could include instead alternative forms of investment protection. Other large free trade agreements, such as the EU-South Korea, USA-Australia, and Australia-Japan have shown that this can be done.

The TTIP negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors and EPHA joins the many thousands of voices within Europe calling for this to change. Earlier this month the European Court of Justice opened the possibility for the European Commission to make public papers relating to international trade agreements. Whether this can extend to the existing TTIP negotiations or not remains to be seen.  

A shift in the way Brussels goes about negotiating trade deals is needed. In order for TTIP to work, consumer protection, social, environmental and public health interests, should be considered on a par with business concerns. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights are the founding principles upon which the European Union is based. It therefore follows that the largest free trade agreement ever negotiated at the heart of the Union should also be based upon these principles. TTIP should uphold the rule of law by ensuring member state’s right to regulate without fear of dispute settlements thereby retaining power in the hands of democratically elected legislators. It should also enable the European Union to protect the right to health by ensuring that any regulations or changes to regulation implemented to protect health or improve health services be exempt from the agreement. 

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