Wednesday, 9 December 2015

TTIP- a disaster in the making we should all be worried about.

Last night members of North Staffs Green Party met at Hanley Fire Station to discuss how the party should respond to the threat posed by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, the negotiations to set it up have been shrouded in secrecy with parliamentarians across the EU being given only limited information as to what it will entail.

In a speech made in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said TTIP, if it were to be implemented would 'blow apart the power of our democratic decision making,' adding that it posed a huge threat to worker's rights, food safety and environmental protection.

Last night's meeting took place ahead of a debate on TTIP to be held in parliament on Thursday, the first to have taken place since the mostly secret negotiation on the agreement began.

TTIP, members heard, represents a direct challenge to the authority of councils, public services such as the NHS and the UK government to take decisions that could be perceived by large, mostly US based corporations as posing a threat to their profits.

Large corporations would be able to sue for compensation on these grounds and even if the organisation being sued won its case it would have no right to claim compensation.

An example of this given at the meeting was that of tobacco company Philip Morris, who took the Australian government to court over their plans to introduce, for public health reasons, plain packaging for cigarettes. This happened under the provisions of the Pacific Rim Agreement which is identical to TTIP, although the Australian government won its case it received no compensation and was left with a massive legal bill to pay.

When the UK government was considering introducing plain packaging for cigarettes it is thought that covert pressure from the tobacco lobby was partly to behind the eventual decision to drop the policy.

It is feared that the legal costs of fighting even a successful case against a large corporation backed by TTIP could shrink further already diminished budgets for public services, inhibiting the willingness of parties to take action and placing big business above the law.

This, one member said, would 'play into the hands' of the 147 mostly US based corporations who exert an 'unnatural' degree of influence over the world economy and have been implicated in dubious business practices. Giving them the power enshrined in TTIP had about it, he said, 'the makings of a real disaster.'

Locally MPs Rob Flello and Paul Farrelly, representing Stoke South and Newcastle respectively, are believed to be opposed to TTIP, Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt and Stoke North's Ruth Smeeth have not expressed an opinion. Labour members of Newcastle Borough council are also believed to be opposed to TTIP.

Local Green Party members have been active in protesting against TTIP, in October they took to the streets of Newcastle to raise public awareness. Over the next few months they will be in action again with campaign activities planned including a petition to Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the possible tabling of a motion on TTIP by Keele Green councillor Wenslie Naylon.

TTIP is one of the defining political issues of our time, it could, if implemented, shatter irrevocably employment rights and laws protecting the environment that have been hard fought for over decades.

There is also a real risk that TTIP could do lasting damage to the local, national and European economy by squeezing out the small and medium size enterprises that drive innovation and create the jobs of the future.

TTIP is a complex issue and doesn't fit easily into the bite-sized, information-lite format followed by much of the news media. It requires close examination of the facts, figures and potential risks along with a serious debate about the sort of economy and society we want to hand on to our children.

Hard though it may be this is a discussion we need to have before it is too late and the freedoms we value but too often take for granted are either diluted or lost altogether.

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