TTIPing the balance. Which way will the SNP go?
TTIP is the culmination of thirty years economic ideology. Liz Murray explores the opportunities to take a stand and defend Scotland against a new corporate assault.
Tomorrow, at its spring conference, members of the Scottish National Party will vote on a motion tabled by MEP Alyn Smith expressing ‘strong dissatisfaction’ about the content and process of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This reflects growing opposition to TTIP across civil society, here in the EU and in the US, as the ‘big business’ agenda behind the treaty becomes clear. Across Scotland, local campaign groups have sprung up to oppose TTIP and on April 11 the nation-wide ‘Scotland Against TTIP’ coalition launches.
That coalition currently includes seven trades union bodies, environment and food organisations, and social justice and anti-austerity campaigners – but is growing almost daily.
But what is TTIP, and why should it matter to Scotland?
As acronyms go, TTIP isn’t really up to much. It doesn’t sound important like the UN or the EU, and there’s much more fun to be had with LOL or WTF.
But stick with me here, because behind those four unassuming and rather pedestrian letters lies something huge and far reaching. And something that, if passed, will impact Scotland. A corporate power grab and an assault on democracy, no less.
What TTIP is, and isn’t
TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is being touted as a trade deal; something that’ll allow goods to flow more easily between the EU and US.
But it’s much more than that. TTIP is a transfer of power from democratically elected governments to transnational corporations on a scale not seen before. It’s part of a global attempt to shift power from people to corporations under the guise of ‘free’ trade. Its aim is to reduce or take away barriers to trade, and that means regulations put in place by governments to protect public health, the environment, workers rights and more. Supporters of TTIP call this ‘levelling the playing field’ but in reality it will actually create an unbalanced system that favours transnational companies. It will give them total freedom of movement for capital, goods, and services, as well as the ability to sue governments in secret courts, but will ask nothing of them in return.
European trade commissioners have been quite open in saying that they hope TTIP will set the ‘gold standard’ for other trade agreements around the world. Grand promises are being made about the amount of economic growth and jobs that will result from TTIP, as well as assurances that standards will go up, not down. We heard all this when NAFTA (the North America Free Trade Agreement – another big, bad acronym) came into force in 1994. The evidence from that trade deal shows that the opposite has turned out to be true. Jobs have been lost, wages reduced, income inequality increased and regulations to protect the public good regularly challenged by corporations.
How Scotland is at risk from TTIP
TTIP isn’t a deal for citizens, small business, consumers or the environment and, if the trade deal becomes law, Scotland will be at risk.
The Scottish government could be sued by US corporations for passing or improving legislation designed to protect workers, public health or the environment, if that legislation was deemed a threat to profits. The mechanism that would allow this to happen (standby for another unsexy acronym) is the ISDS, or investor state dispute mechanism. This is a system of international arbitration courts outside of any national legal system and run by corporate lawyers.
Under TTIP, US oil and gas companies might use the ISDS to sue the Scottish government if it changed the current moratorium on fracking to a ban, or if it set tighter regulations on climate change emissions, as they could claim that as a threat to profits. Or waste companies might use it if the Scottish government passed new legislation on waste reduction. Or big tobacco might use it if further smoking bans or tighter tobacco control regulations were brought in. Companies could even just threaten to use the ISDS to sue the Scottish government, and that might be enough to put them off passing or tightening up legislation.
This isn’t fanciful thinking. A look at twenty year old NAFTA, the free trade deal between Canada, the US and Mexico, shows many, many cases where trans-national companies have sued those governments over environmental, energy, land use, financial, public health and transport policies that they saw as a threat to their profits. As of this time last year, there were eleven claims outstanding under NAFTA, with trans-national companies seeking a total of more than $12 billion in compensation from governments.
In addition to the risk of legal challenge, the concept of ‘regulatory harmonisation’ (to create that all-important level playing field) could mean that legislation in areas devolved to the Scottish parliament, such as environment, food safety, health and workers rights could be deemed barriers to trade and forced downwards under the those rules in TTIP.
And of course there is the much discussed risk to Scottish public services, such as the NHS and Scottish Water. Where there is privatisation in any part of Scotland’s public services, then TTIP could mean contracts being opened up to US companies. And if the Scottish government were to try to bring privatised services, such as the railways or postal services, back into public hands then it could be subject to legal challenge under TTIP. This has already happened in Slovakia under another free trade agreement.
Scotland must be protected from TTIP
It’s clear that opposition to TTIP is growing. Environmental and social justice activists have made common cause with trade unions, food safety campaigners and digital rights activists across the EU and US to oppose the trade deal.
The Scottish government must take a strong stand against TTIP in order to protect Scottish interests – and its own decision-making power. As the SNP holds its spring conference this weekend, the polls tell us that they may be looking at the prospect of sending many MPs to Westminster and possibly even holding the balance of power. In that case (in fact, in any case), when those MPs speak up for Scottish interests they must speak out against TTIP. And of course the six Scottish MEPs, two of whom are SNP, will get to vote yes or no on TTIP once negotiations have finished.
This morning, a letter from Nicola Sturgeon landed on my desk in reply to one I’d sent her asking her for the SNP’s position on TTIP. The letter shows clear concern over the risks of TTIP to Scottish public services, and in particular the NHS. And, reassuringly, it states that the SNP will oppose TTIP if the final agreement contains rights for corporations to sue governments.
But the SNP could go further – and it must if it is to protect the rest of Scotland’s public services, as well as regulations designed to safeguard the environment, workers and public health.
The UK Labour MEPs have pledged to oppose TTIP unless ISDS is excluded, all public services are excluded and standards designed to protect the public good are guaranteed to go up, not down. We believe that the SNP could, and should, match this level of opposition to TTIP. Let’s hear them say it loud and clear.
For more information on TTIP see www.globaljustice.org.uk/campaigns/trade