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Published On: Sun, Apr 10th, 2016

British Conservative Breaks Ranks, Opposes TTIP – Eric Zuesse

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TND Guest Contributor:  Eric Zuesse

It’s as if, say, during the Republican Administration of US President George Herbert Walker Bush, the person who had negotiated international trade deals for the prior President, the Republican Ronald Reagan, came out publicly against a mega-‘trade’ deal that his fellow-Party-member, President Bush, was ardently trying to get approved. That is extreme breaking of ranks, and it happened on Sunday in the UK.

Britain’s former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1990-92, under Margaret Thatcher and John Major), and current Conservative MP (Member of Parliament), Peter Liley, did it when he blogged on April 3rd at the Conservative Party’s website «Conservative Home»:

I believe in free trade. Always have, always will. As the only serving MP to have negotiated a successful free trade deal (the Uruguay Round – as Trade and Industry Secretary during the 1990s), I automatically supported the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal currently being negotiated between the USA and EU, assuming it was a free trade agreement.

The more closely I look at it, the more parts of it worry me. Conservatives who believe in free trade should be very wary about endorsing TTIP. And both the Leave and Remain campaigns should look very carefully at its implications for our EU membership.

Let me explain why.

TTIP is not primarily about removing tariffs and quotas. The average tariff levied by the US on goods from Europe is just 2.5 per cent. Getting rid of them would be worthwhile – but no big deal.

It is mainly about harmonising product specifications and creating a special regime for investment. There is no objection to those things in principle. Insofar as product harmonisation means removing rules introduced as hidden protection of a domestic producer, that is fine. But we should not sign away Parliament’s right to protect our citizens from harmful additives, and so forth.

The very core of both Obama’s ‘trade’ deal with Europe, TTIP, and his ‘trade’ deal with Asia, TPP, is precisely that: to sign away legislators’ power to protect the electorate from harmful additives, toxic water and foods and air, unsafe cars, and to preserve environment for themselves and future generations – and more (Lilley is especially concerned because it would abolish Britain’s vaunted public health service. Imagine: a British Conservative is determined to protect that enormously successful socialist program in his country! Flabbergasting, but true.).

The very core of it is to transfer national sovereignty to a worldwide dictatorship of international corporations (three-person corporate-accountable panels of ‘arbitrators’, whose rulings are non-appealable and aren’t required to adhere to any nation’s laws – it’s shocking, but true).

And, for any conservative – whether in Britain or any other country – to oppose that is a very big deal, especially when it’s a former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

He goes on to say:

My three main concerns relate to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement System (ISDS). This creates a system of tribunals – special courts – in which large foreign companies can sue governments (but not vice-versa) for pursuing policies which harm their investments.

US companies could sue the UK government should it want to take back into the public sector privately provided services in the NHS, education, and so forth – or open fewer services to private provision. The EU and UK government have denied that this is possible. But a cogent Counsel’s Opinion argues that because these tribunals can award unlimited fines they could exert «a chilling effect» on government decision making. The Left have been particularly irate about this but Conservatives too should be worried. I and other local MPs – all Tories – lobbied successfully to reincorporate into the NHS a disastrously run private Surgicentre (set up by Tony Blair’s Government) serving our constituencies. Under TTIP, a foreign operator could have sued for massive compensation at the expense of our local NHS. Conservatives have rightly been cautious and pragmatic about the extent of private provision particularly in health. It would be electorally disastrous if we back a system which turns out to bring in privatisation by the back door.

These tribunals give foreign multinationals their own privileged legal system, too costly for smaller foreign companies (since the average case costs $8 million), and from which UK companies are excluded. Moreover, the ‘judges’ are commercial lawyers who, when not serving on a Tribunal, work for, and are therefore sympathetic to, big companies. Cases are heard largely in secret…

In short, the Government argues (not entirely convincingly) that TTIP tribunals will probably do no harm. No one claims that they will actually do any good – i.e. attract more US investment to the UK or vice versa. The idea that any American companies are afraid to invest here because they do not trust the British legal system or fear expropriation is not credible. Businesses from across the globe choose to make their contracts subject to British law precisely because it is the most trusted. If, as the Government claims, these ISDS tribunals will give the same outcome as British courts they are completely unnecessary…

In or out of the EU, we should question whether ISDS tribunals are necessary, reject the 20-year stabilisation clause and insist on excluding the NHS from the treaty (as France has excluded movies). That would be less difficult if Britain leaves the EU and negotiates a parallel treaty – though the simplest thing would be to negotiate a pure free trade agreement restricted to abolishing remaining tariffs.

He comes to this late, after millions of Europeans have already made clear in marches and in numerous public opinion polls that the only way the TTIP can become law in the EU will be if the EU is already a dictatorship – not at all by truly democratic means. But, better late than never.

Unlike Hillary Clinton in the US, who has always worked behind the scenes to pass trade deals that have ISDS in them, and who told Democrats in Congress to follow the lead of Nancy Pelosi, who spoke publicly against Obama’s ‘trade’ deals but was actually whipping in the US House to help the President win Fast Track so they can become passed into law, Lilley doesn’t have the reputation of someone who says one thing in public and does the opposite, behind the scenes, in actual policymaking.

His statement is real – not mere slogans and words. And it will sway policymakers, and not merely the voters of his own Party (in order to win that Party’s primary election).

If Obama gets his ‘trade’ deals passed into law, he will be by far the biggest-impact US President since FDR, who introduced Social Security and many other existing programs (and also the Glass-Steagall Act, which FDR’s fellow – but only fake – ‘Democrat’, Bill Clinton annihilated), and who joined with Churchill and Stalin, to defeat global fascism. Obama’s impact will then be perhaps even more evil than FDR’s was good. However, if he fails to pass any of his ‘trade’ deals, then he’ll only be as bad, or nearly as bad, as George W. Bush was, even if he turns out to have been lucky enough to postpone the coming super-crash (toward which his policies are building) till the next person becomes President. Obama is the most conservative Democratic President since James Buchanan – and that’s pretty bad, even if Obama manages to hold off the crash that he has been postponing, until his successor comes in.

In contrast, the Conservative Peter Lilley is a flaming progressive, by comparison, because he certainly is that on the biggest public-policy issue since World War II, which is whether to end or instead expand ISDS. If it’s expanded, then, for example, the recent Paris accord against global warming will be effectively dead. That’s how big a deal this is: not only democracy, but even the continuation of a livable planet, are all on the line now. Obama says one thing, but what he does can be very different.

This work was published at the Strategic Culture on-line journal and is reprinted with permission.

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