TTIP Q&A: What is it - and should we be worried?


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Q. What is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?

A. A planned agreement between the European Union and the US which would create the world’s largest free-trade zone. Negotiations on removing tariffs began last year and completed their latest round this month.

Q. What could be the  TTIP’s benefits?

A. Advocates say that sweeping away internal barriers on goods and services would provide a huge economic stimulus in the US and Europe, encouraging investment and creating jobs.

Q. When could agreement  be clinched?

A. The two sides have been reluctant to give a timescale and the details of the potential deal will be complicated. But the political will clearly exists on both sides of the Atlantic to strike an agreement.

Q. Why has the TTIP run  into opposition?

A. Critics are wary of such supranational deals as they diminish countries’ influence over such issues as environmental standards, food safety, consumer protection and banking regulations.

Q. Anything in particular?

A. A provision, called an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which would allow a multinational to take legal action against a foreign government it accuses of harming its business interests. Such disputes are settled by panels of international corporate lawyers. A controversial recent example of an ISDS being invoked was the tobacco giant Philip Morris suing the Australian government for forcing it to sell cigarettes in plain packets. It said the move breached an Australian investment treaty with Hong Kong. The case is yet to be resolved.

Q. What has this got to do with the NHS?

A. Opponents say the moves would open up European public services to greater US investment. In particular, they say, the ISDS mechanism would allow US multinationals to sue a future British government that reversed the trend of greater private investment in healthcare.

Q. How have Britain and Europe responded?

A. Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, insists critics’ concerns are misplaced. But he has promised that ministers would “look carefully at the substance of ISDS provisions to ensure the right of the state to legislate in the public interest is fully preserved”. The European Commission has also stressed there is  no secret agenda to allow private firms to buy into public services.