Politicians can be so fixated by the benefits of free trade that they are missing the real dangers of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. In my view TTIP is primarily about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking and labour regulations. It is, as John Hilary, of War on Want, said: "An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations."
I was giving oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee last week on TTIP. It's not often in parliament that I find myself on the same side as the NFU, but that just demonstrates how broad the coalition concerned about TTIP is.
There is an argument, put forward by an academic lawyer at the committee, that we are worrying too much. There can be no provisions in the treaty that are outside EU competences and the EU has no powers to direct how, for example, our health service is organised. With respect, this academic view of the law is simply naive.
There are plenty of examples of states signing up to similar treaties only to find corporations challenging their democratic decisions. Australia over tobacco control and Slovakia over health insurance, highlights just two in the health sector. There are over 500 of these cases being heard across the world at present. It's not just the actual legal action that matters. The threat of legal action can result in 'regulatory chill' with risk adverse law officers worrying about any radical action that might result in a legal challenge. Scotland's recent Procurement Act and the living wage was one recent example of this effect. That Act also has provisions to tackle aggressive tax avoidance. Just imagine the plane loads of US corporate lawyers flying in to Edinburgh if TTIP was in place!
Effective challenges to the EU also have to come from the member state and for Scotland that means the UK. In England they are creating a US style privatised health service, so would they really complain to the EU to save Scotland's very different approach?
Some MSPs pursued the idea of a 'good TTIP' with us. I'm afraid that I don't hold out much hope for that. There are already very few trade barriers between the U.S. and the UK, so it's deregulation and privatising public services that interests rapacious American corporations. From a UK perspective there is little economic evidence of the benefits. When officials claim gains in the range of £4bn to £10bn, you know they are just making the numbers up. Even these figures take no account of job displacement and a further shift from wages to capital.
At a minimum TTIP a would have to unequivocally exclude public services, possibly using the positive list approach to avoid definitional problems over what a public service is. There should be no common regulatory standards, because the US ones are generally too low. Enforcement procedures that are in TTIP a should include all the ILO standards, particularly the ones that the U.S. hasn't signed up to, such a collective rights.
But the biggest issue is removing any Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). These mechanisms give judicial protection only to foreign corporations and allow their massive legal departments to tramp all over democratically elected governments. In this way they would be able to reduce our food safety rules, privatise the NHS, challenge the Scottish Living Wage and weaken environmental regulations on issues like fracking.
If a 'good TTIP' like this was on the table, I strongly suspect the US would just walk away. That's fine, because that is just what the EU should be doing now.