Trade unionists join campaign group supporters at an anti-TTIP rally in Berlin. Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Brexit won’t save us from #TTIP: Our own government are part of the problem
A common argument from the leave camp in the upcoming EU referendum is that Brexit could save us from the many negative impacts of the EU-US TTIP trade deal. But unfortunately there isn’t a quick way out. The truth is that outside the EU we would be facing the prospect of even worse trade deals and with much less voice to challenge them.
We should be clear that the UK government has been one of the most vocal advocates of TTIP since the start, actively pushing the deal further towards its current pro-privatisation and foreign-investor friendly form.
Indeed, just last week David Cameron batted off concerns about public services and deregulation that might be ushered in by TTIP and pledged his full support for the deal. Back in 2014 Lord Livingston, the then trade minister, wrote to the European Commission with a few other countries to try to make sure TTIP kept its Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions – the unaccountable international courts that allow foreign investors to sue governments for things like increases in the minimum wage.
Not all EU countries are so happy about a super-liberalising trade deal, however.
Last week the French government made clear that the deal needs to go further to protect regulatory protections and high standards, otherwise it will block TTIP altogether. Similar sentiments have been raised by politicians in Germany and Greece, among others.
France has also used its say in TTIP negotiations to push for more protections for important sectors. For example, they successfully got audio-visual services excluded from the TTIP right at the start of talks in 2013. They’ve also put in a reservation limiting foreign investors in health services.
A number of other governments have added reservations to protect health and social services regardless of funding in their countries. Cyprus has even put in a reservation to protect their hairdressers.
But due to its ideological belief in privatisation and free trade the UK government has to date failed to enter the same broad reservations for our own public services like the NHS, transport or education (much more on this here).
As workers, however, we have been able to push for changes to TTIP through our connections in the European trade union movement.
Europe-wide union pressure made the EU Commission acknowledge the need for effectively enforceable labour standards, make more negotiating texts public than ever before and rewrite the rules for ISDS. This doesn’t go far enough of course (we still have many concerns about the threats TTIP poses to workers rights and public services and democratic decision making to say the least) so we need to keep the pressure up. But if we’re outside the EU we can’t push at all.
If Britain left the EU, British unions and citizens would no longer be able to call for TTIP to entirely carve out public services, or be able to make these demands stronger by calling for them collectively with other unions across Europe, as we have been.
But (as Sam Lowe points out in the Independent) outside the EU Britain would still be likely to be bound by the terms of any eventual TTIP deal if we want to trade with the EU. So we would suffer any negative consequences no matter what.
Leaving the EU also won’t mean we escape the neoliberal approach of our own government towards trade deals. Leaving the current government (or an even more right wing one of Brexit Conservatives) to their own devices to remake our trading relationships with the world, would be likely to result in us forging even worse deals.
Just look at how the UK has been blocking the EU taking stronger actions against Chinese dumping of steel. It’s driven by their zeal to liberalise market rules and court countries like China for investment for our key industries and energy supplies, rather than providing the strategic government support required (as Tim Page has blogged previously).
Outside the EU, the Conservatives would be free to open our markets to limitless cheap Chinese steel, unrestrained by EU anti-dumping measures. This would have dire consequences for jobs and wages in steel communities that are already being pushed deep into crisis due to our government’s inaction.
As things stand, our best chance of stopping TTIP and of protecting our public services, workers’ rights and democracies from bad trade deals like TTIP is by staying in the EU and working with our European allies to fight for trade that delivers for working people, rather than private profit.