Secret trade agreement ‘a battle between big business and everybody else’

UNISON today confirmed its opposition to the secret trade agreements being forged between the European Union and the United States, which could have a ‘chilling’ effect on public services.

Delegates at both the local government and water, environment and transport conferences in Glasgow considered the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is scheduled for completion at the end of this year.

The WET delegates agreed a motion that “opposes, as a matter of principle, the deregulation and privatisation agenda which so clearly lies at its heart.”

Ruth Davies, chair of the WET service group executive, said: “Anything that talks about international trade agreements between the EU and the US is not something that’s going to benefit our members. This will drag public services into the private sector.”

She added that there would be “wide-ranging implications” for environmental legislation, the protection of public services and workers’ rights. “UNISON is fundamentally opposed to it.”

Although most of the details of TTIP remain secret, it’s thought to include a mechanism that will allow private investors to submit tribunal complaints against governments and public bodies which corporations believe to be unfairly interfering with their commercial activities. 

This could have a direct impact on democratic decision-making in the running of public services and utilities.

Introducing a second motion at the WET conference, Rosealene Ballan of Yorkshire Water told delegates that “TTIP only works in one direction – towards the US multinationals.”

Ms Ballan’s branch warns of the “predatory” interest of such companies in the European water industry.

Its motion also states that “there is a real risk that terms and conditions, regulations and environmental standards will be reduced to American levels should the multinationals have their way,” it states.

At local government, War on Want’s executive director John Hilary gave a special presentation on TTIP.

Mr Hilary said that the agreement was aiming to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ that restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations,” he said, “such as labour rights, food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.”

Mr Hilary noted that coverage of TTIP often focused on healthcare. But its impact elsewhere would be huge. For example, food hygiene would be at risk as it would become illegal to inspect meat that entered the country. 

“All government procurement contracts are fully open to market forces. Any provisions you might want to put in will be swept away as barriers to trade.

“We need to see TTIP for what it is – a battle between big business and everybody else.”