THE BLOG

Secrecy Concerns Around TTIP

13/06/2014 13:35 BST | Updated 11/08/2014 10:59 BST

Shrouded in secrecy, our world leaders are currently negotiating a deal that will let multinational corporations wield power over national governments; lower environmental and safety standards across the EU; bring workers' rights down to appalling US levels; and threaten the NHS as we know it.

We rightly worry about exploitation by big companies and the negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) do nothing to ease concerns about the power of the big business lobby. They are conducted at the very highest levels, with MPs and ordinary people relying on rumours to find out what is going on, while multinationals seem to be playing a central role.

Today the European Scrutiny committee heard evidence from Lord Livingston of Parkhead but he was unwilling to give committee members any information that we didn't know already.

So what do we know?

Under the agreement, between the US and EU, governments in the EU will not be allowed to make decisions which would impact on the profit margins of US companies trading over here. In practice, this means that were a 2015 Labour Government were to roll back the NHS privatisation we have seen in recent years, the Government could be sued by medical companies for doing so.

This is not an over exaggeration. We have seen this happen already under similar trade agreements. Philip Morris, the tobacco company, is currently suing the Uruguay government for $2 billion for putting health warnings on cigarette packets; and when Slovakia went back on a previous government's liberalisation of health insurance, a Dutch company sued them for €22 million.

We also know that the goal of the agreement is to harmonise standards. Essentially, this will mean bringing all standards down to the lowest common denominator. So all the environmental, health and safety standards that we have worked hard to build in the EU will be undermined by American companies coming into the market.

Ironically, the US financial sector are keen to see this agreement go through so they can get the more liberal casino banking standards that they see over here. So it works both ways, and ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic will not be the winners in this game.

I see an agreement which could undermine workers' rights here and an opportunity lost to support our friends in the unions in the US. The US has ratified only 14 of the 190 ILO conventions, unlike EU member states who have ratified them all. If nothing else, the deal should not lead to a watering down of workers' rights, but I worry that, like other standards, workers' rights will be reduced to the lowest common denominator, meaning on the signing on the dotted line, we will lose the rights it took centuries to achieve.

The TTIP could be a good deal. It has the potential for job creation, higher wages for workers and a better deal for consumers. Trade across the Atlantic between the US and the EU is a fact of life and the US is the UK's biggest export market. If people want to buy and sell across the water, we should make it convenient for them to do so. But here is the key - we should make an agreement that helps ordinary people, not big corporations and big business.

At the moment I do not see that. We need the agreement laid out in the open so we can work towards a deal that is good for all.