Most people have probably never heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) – an agreement between the EU and the USA, which is being promoted as the biggest ever free trade agreement. The devil may well lie in the detail, as the TTIP, if it is agreed, contains a number of highly controversial proposals which could seriously undermine workers’ rights, affect agriculture, weaken food hygiene, lower quality standards and affect digital privacy laws.
Now international trade is a vital component of our economy and if we want to a strong and vibrant Welsh economy then exports quality Welsh products around the world will play their part. The proposed TTIP, however, won’t help because in its current form it is little more than a charter for multinational corporations to make more money. The problem is that the plans (such as they are) for a free trade zone between the EU and the USA are based on cutting costs, something that will be achieved by lowering quality standards and rolling back hard earned workers’ employment rights.
As noted by Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, probably the section of the agreement that should concern most people are the plans for ‘Investor state dispute settlement’ which would basically would allow foreign (basically US) companies to take governments to court if they act in a way that could reduce investors’ profits. A whole variety of groups including Friends of the Earth Europe have warned that this clause in particular could be invoked by US companies if European governments introduce legislation to improve workers’ rights, including pay, or to improve health or environmental legislation.
On a very basic level this could mean that if at some point a future Welsh Government improved workers’ rights by securing a living wage or ending zero hours contracts or if they enacted strong environmental legislation to combat climate change - then they could be liable to be sued by multinational companies. Already the free-trade agreement in North America, NAFTA, lead to legal threats to Canada because of a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. It has to be unacceptable for democratic governments to end up in a position where multi-national companies can take them to court when they have acted in the best interests of their people, rather than simply acting to enable corporate profits to be ramped up.
Disturbingly, aside from the fact that, not untypically, most the discussions and negotiations have been carried out behind closed doors, when what’s needed is an honest and open debate about what TTIP should include, based on what is best for people, not just for multi-national companies and US trade. We should be concerned that there have already been calls from US senators for an end to European specialist product definitions which act a mark of quality, in Wales they include Welsh beef and lamb, as well as Pembrokeshire Early potatoes and Halen Mon.