We MEPs are getting a large number of e-mails objecting to TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership). The messages are strident, and seem to be infused with an attitude that is strongly anti-American, anti-business, anti-trade and anti-market (and therefore anti-prosperity and anti-jobs).
Some of my colleagues are ready to go with the populist pressure and to declare UKIP “The only Party opposed to TTIP”. I prefer a more nuanced approach.
First of all, we all agree (I hope) that free trade is a hugely good thing. It has been a major driving force behind the spectacular increase in wealth and prosperity in Western countries for a hundred years (and in the rest of the world more recently). We all agree that any transatlantic trade agreement must include safeguards for the NHS – and we are assured that TTIP will include such safeguards. We all agree that ISDS provisions (Investor/State Dispute Settlement) must be scrutinised carefully and not give undue rights to corporations (though some colleagues seem unaware that ISDS, far from being some evil new construct from Amazon and Google, is in fact a commonplace of hundreds of existing trade agreements).
We all agree that we should prefer a bilateral deal negotiated directly between the UK and the USA (and many of us feel that we should have had such a deal decades ago, but for our membership of the EU). But we are where we are. We are not currently in a position to negotiate a bilateral deal, so it’s an EU/US deal or nothing. And an EU/US deal (with proper safeguards) is better than no deal at all (as it is with other countries, like Korea, for example).
So if I am satisfied that any proposed TTIP deal is, on balance, in the interests of my constituents and my country, I shall support it. But although there will be various resolutions on TTIP along the way, there will be no final vote on it for years, if ever. We will have plenty of time to read the small print. See my blog post.
TTIP: Breaking News: I’ve just returned (8 a.m. UK time June 10th) from a riotous session in the Hemicycle. We were scheduled to debate and vote on the TTIP Report (remember this was about TTIP negotiations, not for or against TTIP, as there is no final text to vote on). The “Conference of Presidents” had already decided to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow the large number of amendments to be reconsidered (by the Trade Committee) and condensed, but in fact because they’d failed to reach agreement between major political groups and feared losing the report.
We then had a fierce argument about whether the debate on the report should go ahead (because there was a lot of public interest, and people out there keen to see what would happen) or to delay the debate until we were ready to vote (probably in July), so that the arguments would be fresh in the minds of MEPs as they voted. I personally didn’t feel strongly either way, but the party decided to oppose the postponement. We lost on a roll-call vote by a tiny margin – 183 to 181. For me, the big surprise was that there were 364 MEPs in the Chamber to vote by eight o’clock.