Plaid Cymru has called for the UK Westminster Government to explicitly exempt the NHS from US private buy-outs, which the questionably beneficial new free trade deal between the EU and US could enable. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) which is aimed at opening up the EU market to the US and vice-versa. Some Member States have already ensured exemptions; from initial negotiations e.g. France has protected its film industry from the free trade deal.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Minister for Health Elin Jones, after meetings with EU officials in Brussels last week said:
"Negotiations relating to this US trade deal must ensure the NHS is protected from potential private interference. The NHS is a treasure and is rooted in social considerations. As such, it should not be subject to the principles of a free market. There is no place for profiteering in our health service.
"The French have ensured protection for an important aspect of their public life and the UK government must do the same for the NHS. If Westminster refuses to do so, it would be reasonable to suspect that this is part of their wider privatisation agenda that we see in England. We should be very concerned that the financial implications of this would have huge consequences for Wales and could threaten the way health services are delivered.
Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans MEP added:
"EU governments, including the UK, of course, gave the European Commission the power to negotiate this trade deal with the USA on our behalf. But even the European Parliament hasn't seen the negotiating mandate. Discussions are all taking place behind closed doors. We know that the TTIP as it stands, contains the Investor State Dispute Resolution or ISDS, a provision that allows private companies to sue governments if their profits are affected by actual or even proposed legislation. Because of widespread objection, the Commission has held a consultation on this and I very much hope the Welsh Government has responded on our behalf.
"We must ensure that the NHS is exempt from the TTIP in the interests of all the people of Wales and the Welsh Government is seriously failing in its duty if it has not called for this.
While 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.
International trade is an important component part of our economy and if we want to a strong and vibrant Welsh economy then exports of quality Welsh products around the world will play their part. TTIP, however, won’t help us much because in its current form it is little more than a charter for multinational corporations to make more money at everyone else’s expense. The problem is that the plans 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.
Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, has noted that probably the section of the agreement that should seriously worry most people are the plans for ‘Investor state dispute settlement’ which would allow foreign (basically US) companies to take governments to court if they act in a way that could reduce investors’ profits. Understandably a whole variety of concerned 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.
The impact could be far reaching, for example, 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 is 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 own people, rather than simply acting as agents to assist corporate profits to be ramped up to the max.
What perhaps is most disturbing, aside from the fact that, not untypically, that 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 all be concerned that US senators have already begun to call 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.