"Thank you for inviting me to talk to you about TTIP today. As you know this issue has been attracting a lot of interest. It's also generated a great deal of concern, and I congratulate Business Durham for organizing such a timely debate. It's absolutely crucial that we talk about TTIP. As your MEP I'll have to vote on the deal once it's finalized and I simply cannot make such an important call on my own.
While negotiations are ongoing, I also have the opportunity to pass on messages to the negotiators and as such to influence the process. So I'm gathering a lot of information to be able to best defend the interests of the region in the negotiations. I've talked to everyone that has reached out to me since being elected. I've organised public meetings across the region on the issue and took part to countless debates, and I'm very happy to be here today to be able to listen to what Durham's Businesses have to say about TTIP.
But before I sit down and listen, I've been asked by the organizers of this meeting to report back briefly on the policy side of TTIP, as the European Labour lead on the negotiations.
So I'll say a few words on the context of TTIP overall, on where the Labour party stands and on what we have been doing as Labour MEPs to influence the negotiations from Brussels in order secure the best possible outcome.
To start off – what is TTIP? Eighteen months ago, the EU (with the agreement of all 28 EU trade ministers) and the USA launched negotiations for a colossal trade and investment agreement, which if finalised would cover 50% of global production and nearly half of global trade. Any deal will effectively set global standards for trade, especially if the World Trade Organisation’s multilateral trade talks remain blocked.
TTIP stands out as a very ambitious trade deal, not just in terms of its geographical reach, but also in terms of its ambition.
This deal is not only about tariffs and quotas. In fact, the biggest gains for business are expected in the field of what's called 'non-tariff-barriers', that is how we can ensure regulatory consistency across the Atlantic to make it easier for both sides to trade with one another.
Virtually all sectors of the economy are up for discussion, and if TTIP delivers on its ambitions it would be the most comprehensive trade agreement ever.
Where are we in the negotiations? There have been 8 rounds so far, with two more to come before the summer. The Commission is expecting to be able to wrap up the technical work by the autumn.
The talks are far from concluded as big political issues such as investment protection will only be dealt with once the less controversial elements of the agreement have been cleared.
This is why public debate about the content of any future agreement is really important at this stage, because you can still influence it.
Since the last EU treaty reform came into effect in 2007, when a trade agreement is concluded, the European Parliament now has the right to accept it or reject it – we can’t amend it & so it is a blunt power – but in recent years public debate has created leverage for your MEPs to influence trade negotiations in a way we have not seen before within the EU.
Now, where do we stand as the Labour Party on TTIP overall?
I should start by saying that the UK economy has traditionally greatly benefited from international trade.
This is even truer of the North East, as our region is the one with the largest trade surplus in the country.
We are already well positioned in globalization and if we keep making the right choices when it comes to how our regional economy operates, I strongly believe that we have a lot to gain from increased trade with the US.
So we are prepared to trade in goods and services.
What we are not prepared to trade is our social model, our standards and our democratic rights.
We also must bear in mind that free trade does not work out well for everyone. Trickle-down economics have been shown to fail across Western economies.
In parts of the North East, you can see clearly what trade economists and lawyers dispassionately call “distributional effects”. Trade may increase the size of the pie, but some peoples’ slices get smaller. There are people who gain from globalisation and people who lose from it. And this is why it absolutely crucial to ensure that we have built in mechanism in TTIP to ensure that all businesses, no matter how small or large, benefit from the deal, and that jobs, wages and labour rights are not weakened in any way.
To guarantee that we get in the end a TTIP agreement that would be beneficial to all, we are pushing three main issues with the European Commission: no inclusion of public services in TTIP; no ISDS; and no weakening of standards, in particular labour standards.
Public services have been under sustained attack for many years.
The privatisation of the NHS has been described as a creeping privatisation and it is quite an accurate image, which works not just for the NHS but for many other services. Trade deals are not used to privatise sectors. That is a myth, but they can lock in the economy at a certain degree of liberalisation, thus preventing renationalisation through so-called ‘ratchet’ mechanisms.
This is why people’s concerns over the NHS in TTIP are absolutely justified, and I’m fully committed to doing my best to get the full exemption for public services from the deal.
Without it they’ll be no Labour support for TTIP.
Let me turn to ‘ISDS’.
It's probably the hottest issue right now, and the one has attracted the largest opposition. This dispute settlement clause allows foreign investors to sue governments through arbitration for expropriation of property, unfair treatment or a denial of justice.
The system is wholly flawed as recognised by the Commission and others who are trying to reform it in parallel to the TTIP negotiations. Tribunals operate in secret, arbitrators come from a small pool of commercial lawyers who often work on multinationals’ accounts and have been found to have grave conflicts of interest (1/3 of ISDS arbitrators globally come from one City law firm), there is a no appeal mechanism, expropriation has been used to reclaim ‘future profits’, etc.
I think we need to look at what we are trying to achieve in our investment policy. Looking at it this way could offer a possible way out. As Labour MEPs we are opposed to ISDS in TTIP, because we don’t think it’s needed.
And the business community should reflect on the fact that ISDS introduces a fundamental discrimination between domestic investors and foreign investors.
I'm asking the entrepreneurs in the room: are you prepared to give up a level playing field on your European markets in order to gain a loose protection that you don't even need on your US markets?
Let me finish off in saying a few words on standards. Beyond health and food safety standards, one issue of particular concerns for business has to be labour standards.
Entrepreneurs know that growth stems from innovation, and that most innovation comes from changes implemented on the ground, in-house. To create an environment in which employee innovate, you need balanced and healthy industrial relations. And labour rights are crucial in this respect.
This is why VW has been trying to import its system of social dialogue to its plants in Tennessee. But because the labour regulation is so restrictive in the US, they haven't even been able yet to secure trade union representation for their employees.
So it is also interest of businesses that TTIP is a gold standard agreement also in terms of labour rights.
I'll stop here, and I'm looking forward to hearing your views on TTIP and how we could best make it work for you."