I believe that trade benefits everyone and I work hard in the European Parliament to further our trade relationships with other countries around the world.
The EU — which has all trade powers to negotiate deals — does so with the specific exemption of public services from trade agreements. A recent ‘Unite the union’ campaign on legal advice relating to public services and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) appears to have stirred up TTIP-sceptics again, despite successive statements on both sides of the Atlantic that public services such as the NHS will be protected from any future deal.
I do not believe it is responsible to be sowing fear while knowing that current, existing and future trade policy will not affect how the UK runs its public services. The NHS is already protected by an exemption in all EU trade deals, which is known as the “public utilities clause” and exempts any public services from the commitments under a Free Trade Agreement. This is case with Korea, it is the case with Canada, with Central America, with Columbia and Peru, with Singapore as it will be with TTIP.
It should also be noted that the US also protects its public services in its trade agreements, and they have had so far no problem with their health and education policies as a result of a trade deal, just like the UK.
Rather than Unite stirring up unjustified fear among the public, I would urge it to point to an example whereby the NHS has been affected by a trade deal, and let us know about it. Its concerns focus on investment protection provisions. These have been standard in trade deals for decades. Indeed the UK already has around 90 existing agreements, with a consecutive running time of over 2,000 years and none have affected the NHS.
And rather than focusing on unfounded risk, we should talk about the opportunities arising from TTIP, which even the NHS itself has pointed to. One such area would be in medical devices such as x-ray machines and pacemakers, vital pieces of equipment for our patients and also pharmaceuticals. While these can both be hugely expensive, some of this expense reflects the cost for manufacturers in meeting duplicative testing requirements for access to markets. Removing costly and time consuming requirements through cooperation between regulators could save taxpayers’ money.
My colleagues and I want an ambitious TTIP agreement that opens up opportunities for all our businesses to trade more openly with the US, while providing a wider range of products at a cheaper cost to our consumers with no lowering of standards. We do not want an agreement that prevents our Governments from running UK public services as the UK sees fit, and we Conservatives will categorically not vote in favour of any TTIP that will prevent future decisions from being taken on behalf of UK citizens.