EU-US trade deal: don’t let the government sign us up to a privateers’ charter

Labour MP for Wentworth & Dearne John Healey writes: “The second round of negotiations concludes today in Brussels for a trade deal between the European Union and the United States.

In the UK, interest in the deal is stirring and this week the CBI president called it a “global economic gamechanger”. But wider awareness is still low, despite this being the biggest bilateral trade deal ever with the EU and US together accounting for 30% of global trade and almost half the world’s output. The most reliable studies suggest this agreement could add up to £10bn a year to UK GDP, create thousands of jobs and drive up wages for both skilled and unskilled workers.

I strongly support what would be the first ever trade agreement between economic equals, with no significant disparity in power and wealth. But the forecast benefits to Britain don’t mean that we should give EU negotiators a free hand. Nor should we let the UK government off the hook. If this is a back room deal done by the elites in Brussels and Washington it will fail to command a broadly-based confidence that British consumers, workers and businesses can all benefit. Without much greater public and Parliamentary scrutiny and debate there is also a risk that fears will fester and derail support before the agreement is even signed.

So far, the government has demonstrated no intent to bring transparency and accountability to bear on these trade talks. In Parliament, the only Commons debate was called and led by the new All-Party Parliamentary group I chair on behalf of backbenchers rather than the Government. Our Embassy in Washington part-sponsored a state-by-state study of the impact, but Ministers in the UK have so far failed to commission a similar assessment for the UK.

A lack of openness fosters particular fears about our public services, including the NHS. As Labour’s shadow health secretary during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act, I led the campaign to expose and oppose the ideology at the heart of the Act which opens up the NHS to privatisation and competition law.

A government who passed that Act in Britain is unlikely to stick up for public health services in Brussels. I have repeatedly questioned Ministers, who have been unable to confirm to me that the NHS will be protected from the competition provisions in the trade deal. They’re also encouraging the Commission to discuss wide-ranging investment protection rules which allow multinational companies to sue elected Governments. A similar system was used against the Slovak Republic in 2006 when they tried to roll back a previous Government’s liberalisation of the health insurance market, which should worry every Labour member or NHS supporter who wants to see the back of the Health and Social Care Act.

A good EU-US trade deal could be a powerful boost for jobs and growth. It could also set new labour, consumer and environmental standards for future international trade agreements. But a successful deal can’t be conducted under a shroud of secrecy, and it can’t be seen to put public services at risk. Like justice, good economic policy must not only be done it must be seen to be done. And if the Government are serious about a deal that’s good for us in Britain, they must start giving people the facts and opening up debate.” (http://labourlist.org/2013/11/eu-us-trade-deal-dont-let-the-government-sign-us-up-to-a-privateers-charter/)

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