From the TUC

EU-US trade deal: forcing the pace on #ISDS

23 Jan 2014, by in International, Public services

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady is about to meet EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht along with some other European trade union leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She will be pressing him on the need for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to

  • deliver more and better jobs;
  • maintain workers’ rights, food and consumer safety, banking regulation and so on; and
  • protect the ability of democratically elected governments to act in the interests of their citizens rather than foreign investors.

It will be a rather different conversation on that last point, though, because earlier this week, the Commission made a major concession to trade unions and other campaigners, by announcing a formal consultation on the investment chapter of TTIP, and in particular the most contentious element – the arrangements for Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).

The TUC – along with many others – are arguing that ISDS arrangements are unnecessary and harmful. We don’t believe that there should be an ISDS arrangement in the TTIP, and our view is echoed by the British Government’s own research, which said that ISDS in TTIP would be of no economic benefit to the UK and present considerable political risks.  In brief, our argument against ISDS is that it would allow foreign investors to use unaccountable tribunals to overturn or penalise Government decisions taken in the interests of their own citizens – such as raising the minimum wage, returning NHS services to the public sector, restricting the cost of medicines and deciding on future energy policy.

Of course, we shouldn’t take the announcement of a consultation exercise as the automatic precursor of victory (one early report was a bit wide of the mark in suggesting that it meant the trade talks were suspended!) The Trade Commissioner said yesterday that he intends to carry on with ISDS, but in a form that meets people’s concerns. But this is a significant step forward, and the European Commission’s trade directorate is now under significant and substantial pressure to drop ISDS from its negotiating mandate, including from the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, who announced this week that they had adopted the same policy as the TUC – opposition to ISDS arrangements in TTIP. This will potentially affect other current trade negotiations where the ink isn’t dry yet, such as the CETA deal with Canada.

Our task now is to keep up the pressure, obviously including submitting our arguments to the consultation, but continuing to campaign publicly and lobby for a trade deal that is in the interests of citizens and workers, rather than global corporations.