Consultations conducted behind closed doors coupled with minimal public interaction and resultant ability of well-informed political discourse surrounding one of the most important trade policies of the modern era have sent alarm bells ringing from the Brussels to London, Copenhagen to Paris; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is due to be finalised by the end of 2015.
From protests protecting healthcare from privatisation and workers rights in London to protests to safeguard protection of consumer rights and farming practice in Berlin, pockets of unrest are springing up around the EU and the UK in response to TTIP. TTIP is a multi-lateral trade agreement between many EU member states (including the UK) and the US, designed to further lower taxes, levies and tariffs on productions and services sold across the US and EU zones, with a particular aim of ‘harmonising’ standards across a variety of industries, from healthcare to farming.
The proposed changes and harmonisation of US/UK laws have, in particular, caused high profile MPs such as Caroline Lucas (Green Party) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservatives) to pass comment on the upcoming partnership agreement. Lucas tackles denigration of workers rights as well as the possible routes of further NHS privatisation from companies within the US healthcare industry; Goldsmith attacks food standard harmonisation as a non mutually-beneficial process, the somewhat laxer standards within the US food industry are those unfairly favoured. George Monbiot, in an opinion piece for the Guardian in January 2015, slated the proposed agreement, arguing that fair democratic process will be severely eroded.
With several critical industry regulations and standards within the UK and wider EU economic ecosystem at stake, the real question is who, exactly, is TTIP benefiting? The lobbyists of K Street fighting for agro-business, healthcare companies and every other industry that is set to gain ground on lowering regulation with the passing of the controversial trade partnership? Those officially benefiting remains still to be seen, but already 3 months into 2015, should protestors be moving faster to seek immediate public release of the agreement, or risk being outpaced by lobbyists acting at the behest of those parties with vested interest in securing the agreement into law?
Goldsmith has, previously, discussed that, due to the lack of high tariffs between the free-market trading relationships between the UK and US – currently standing at 3% – the main angle of TTIP would be the tackling, and in some cases, minimisation of standards and controls safeguarding important UK interests.
Benefits of the free trade agreement include figures from a recent EU Commission report, suggesting that US/UK trade would be able to expand by up to 50%. Free trade between the US, Europe and the UK has been a building momentum and complexity since the inception of the ‘Transatlantic Declaration’ in the 1990’s and, with the recent approval of the US/UK ‘Open Skies Agreement’ – a freedom to fly for all commercial and private flights between any US and EU airport – the TTIP, to some, seems the next logical step for continued economic growth and development for both parties going forward. But to further add suspicion to the secrecy under which the agreement is currently being discussed is the fact that negotiations are split between Washington and Brussels, changing location every 7 days.
What remains similarly troubling is the lack of publicly available information – other than a leaked draft of the agreement in March 2014 – preventing further scrutiny of the specific clauses and passages. Only with information and following political discourse can politicians, economists and the general public alike reach an informed decision as to the specific advantages and disadvantages of the agreement.
Just exactly when the information needed to begin the process will become available remains the question on everyone’s lips.
To find out more about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, please visit the following: