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TTIP - A Bad Deal Could Be Worse Than No Deal at All

25/11/2014 17:30 GMT | Updated 25/01/2015 10:59 GMT

I've been giving evidence to Members of Parliament about the EU-US trade deal currently under negotiation: the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.

Politicians and business leaders have become increasingly strident recently, concerned that the negotiations might not reach agreement. They say this would be bad for the economy, bad for jobs, and bad for living standards.

But I'm worried that a bad deal would be even worse. A bad deal could cost jobs, lower wages, and worse still it could put the NHS and other public services at risk. A bad deal might well be worse than no deal at all.

Projections from some economists suggest that, even if TTIP creates growth, the benefits won't necessarily be shared fairly, and the proportion of growth going to wages could fall further - deepening a trend that has been going on for a generation. Using the more-realistic-than-most UNCTAD economic model, Tufts University researchers suggest workers' wages could fall by over £3,000 a year.

Some of the tariff reductions proposed in TTIP could indeed be good news for British exporters, such as the chemicals and automotive industries - and even textiles, Scotch Whisky and farming. And there are some non-tariff barriers, such as regulatory requirements that achieve the same standards by different routes, which could also usefully be negotiated away.

But I think the cart has been put before the horse. Instead of seeking an agreement with those limited but uncontentious objectives, politicians and business on both sides of the Atlantic have over-reached, seeking to sweep away all sorts of health and safety, environmental and consumer protections.

They have also introduced into the negotiations a new concept in North Atlantic trade (although all too common in other bilateral trade and investment treaties) which would give foreign investors unique legal channels and rights to secure compensation where government actions disadvantage - or even potentially disadvantage - their shareholders.

Known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), this process has been used around the world to seek compensation for increased minimum wages, restrictions on tobacco marketing and protection of the environment from oil and mineral extraction. It's a right that isn't being extended to consumers or workers who might be disadvantaged by government action.

ISDS would cause serious problems for any incoming government committed to returning privatised health and other public services to the public sector, making it ruinously expensive - and that explains why unions are demanding that the NHS and public services generally be excluded from TTIP, and that ISDS be dropped. Even the IoD's members have indicated that they aren't that keen on keeping ISDS in the agreement.

TTIP is a big issue for politicians, business, unions and the rest of society. The secrecy which pervades the negotiations has kept it out of public debate for too long, and there are many concerns about the direction of the negotiations. That's why the TUC's Congress this September called for the negotiations to be halted. A good deal could be done, but not by starting from here.