Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign

28 March 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice
Ceclia Malmstrom
Ceclia Malmstrom, negotiating TTIP on our behalf

While negotiations are continuing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP) it is hard to know whether the outcome will be good or bad. As far as I can see, there are arguments for and against it, so I am feeling the need to keep an open mind.

The arguments in favour boil down to increased trade and economic stability. This is important because the growth of China, India and Brazil will put pressure on Europe and America: at 1.37Bn people, China has an appreciably larger population than the EU (500 million) and USA (320 million) together. The collapse of the Doha trade talks also increase the risk of tarifs and trade barriers between the EU and USA. The hope is that, at the very least, TTIP will counteract this, and at best, it will enhance our economic stability and competitiveness by improving ties between the EU and USA. There are predictions that this will boost the British economy by between four and ten billion pounds annually.

The European commission has been suggesting that many of the stories circulating about TTIP are exaggerated or wrong and is keen to reassure people that European concerns around health. Safety, rights at work, privacy, financial security and environment will be protected. Their information on this starts here.

Against this I am very conscious of the amazing value of the NHS, and can see how it could be seen, in some quarters as anti-competitive, because it is large enough to look like a monopoly. This seems to be the reason for my inbox as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate receiving many emails concerned that TTIP could undermine the NHS. Against that, though one of the most important principles of the NHS is that care is free at the point of delivery, it has had an internal market, and been buying services in from elsewhere for many years.

Undermining the NHS would be a tragedy. My own travels in parts of the world without universal healthcare make me profoundly grateful for the NHS and deeply opposed to anything that undermines it. Nick Clegg made a statement late last autumn nwhich clarifies his opposition to any distortion of TTIP that undermines the NHS, which seems an eminently wise position:

I would never endorse TTIP, which is a big new deal which is being negotiated between Europe and America, unless it was absolutely crystal clear that we are allowed to do exactly what we want with our public services, with our cherished NHS, without being undermined by TTIP.

There’s some further re-assurance in that Nick also told the Lib Dem Spring Conference that he had received a letter from the European Commission leading on these negotiations, Cecelia Malmstrom, confirming that there is nothing in TTIP which could force a future British government to outsource or privatise any part of the NHS.

I have also had emails from people concerned that the proposed "Investor State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS) arrangement could end up supporting the needs of big business in a way that is profoundly anti-competitive. The European Commission seems to have done a good job in standing up to the likes of Microsoft, and I am hopeful that what will emerge from the discussion will be something wise which doesn’t run aground on this.

My own thinking keeps coming back to the global context. I realise that people do find globalisation threatening, and it can be tempting to ignore it, but closer ties between the EU and America do give us more weight. Real concerns need to be taken into account in the negotiations, but it would be very unfortunate if misplaced concerns if in thirty years time, the major economic decisions are being set in places over which we have little influence, such as Beijing, where TTIP offers us a chance to work with others to continue to shape our destiny.

I’m hoping that Liberal Democrats in Parliament after May 7 — and hopefully in government — will be in a position to push for TTIP to be in the interests of the peoples of Europe.