Is the EU-US trade deal in trouble?
At the very first public meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), last year, the Prime Minister’s special envoy Ken Clarke MP said that the negotiations shouldn’t be allowed to drag on too long, or people would find out more about the deal, and opposition would be given the chance to build.
The European Commission has responded with a public relations offensive, including a consultation on the first public flashpoint of the negotiations, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The All-Party Group has – in what feels like a more genuine attempt at public engagement – promoted a second Parliamentary debate and, after a debate between the leaders of the CBI, TUC and Which?, has initiated a series of meetings on sectoral aspects of the deal (starting with automotive manufacturing, with unions and employers speaking.)
Unions on both sides of the Atlantic – represented by the AFLCIO and the ETUC – are still being broadly positive about the deal. Some are more positive (like LO Sweden), others more negative (like the Machinists in the US, and IG Metall in Germany) but broadly speaking, unions are united on the key issues, with the main debate one of tone. Supporters are critical of ISDS, the threat to regulatory protections (including workplace rights) and public services, just as opponents are. Both are sceptical of the exaggerated claims about growth and jobs. Unions fall into two camps – supportive if the deal creates more and better jobs and leaves our rights alone, opposed because of concerns that it won’t.
And we’re not alone in our concerns. NGOs, especially environmental, are very hostile to the impact TTIP might have on issues like fracking or control of chemicals (also a key concern for unions on health and safety grounds). Progressive politicians are wary of the impact on their capacity to act, for example on public procurement, like the USA’s ‘Buy America’ rules. John Healey MP, who chairs the All-Party Group, has set out four progressive demands that would improve TTIP and make it more palatable. And US right-wingers are reluctant to give a Democratic President the autonomy to negotiate on their behalf that Trade Promotion Authority (known as ‘fast track’) would provide.
Even IG Metall aren’t closing off the possibility of supporting a deal, though. Their argument is that the way the current negotiations are being conducted – especially the sometimes difficult even to explain, as opposed to justify, secrecy involved in not publishing tariff proposals which have already been exchanged, for example – means a deal will not be acceptable to web-savvy electorates who now expect to be kept well-informed. IG Metall are asking for the negotiations to begin again, with a new mandate for more and better jobs to be the objective, rather than just a by-product sincerely to be wished.
Proponents of TTIP here and in the USA can’t rely on Ken Clarke’s secretive dash for agreement any more, nor relying on traditional and unevidenced claims about jobs and growth. So they need to be more open, abandon some of the hobby-horse demands of the 1% like ISDS, and spend more time explaining how exactly the deal will benefit ordinary people.
Paul Krugman, while defending free trade as LO Sweden and IG Metall along with the TUC have traditionally done, argues that TTIP and other recent trade negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have gone too far. Enthusiasts may have to lower their ‘ambitions’ and get ready to settle for a more limited – but still valuable – tariff reduction agreement, or get more ambitious about raising rather than scrapping transatlantic standards (eg over workers’ rights to representation) and spelling out how any losers from the deal will be compensated.