11 September 2014
The proposed US-EU trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will include the NHS, trade minister Lord Livingston confirmed earlier this month, despite having promised the contrary.
The deal will make the reversal of privatisation practically impossible by granting corporations the power to sue any government attempting to bring the NHS, as well as other public services, back into state ownership.
“The Tories’ Health & Social Care Act of 2012 opened our NHS up to profit-making US private firms and a new trade deal threatens to make the sell-off permanent”, said Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite.
This would be done through a paralegal structure, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS); cases would go through secret kangaroo courts rather than the domestic UK court system.
The threat of ISDS could be used to prevent the UK government from passing publicly supported laws. An exemplary case is that of Phillip Morris International, the US tobacco giant. Phillip Morris has threatened to sue the UK for £11bn over potential loss of earnings from the proposed plain cigarette packaging laws.
When Australia was sued by Phillip Morris on the same grounds, it won after a long and expensive legal battle, but crucially one which took place in the Australian domestic courts.
We can look to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, to see ISDS in practice. Mexico has lost at least five disputes due to the ISDS clause, the most of any country covered by NAFTA, totalling more than $200 million of penalty fees. A significant amount of these damages were awarded in cases brought against Mexico placing taxes on soft drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup. The US has not yet lost a single NAFTA arbitration.
Should TTIP go through, it will further increase the powers of big business over public services, diminish regulation for environmental protection and food standards, and undermine workers’ rights. According to some estimates, more than a million jobs will be lost in the EU.
All trade unions are vehemently opposed to the agreement, with delegates at TUC Congress unanimously backing a motion opposing it and calling for negotiations to be halted.
Speaking at congress, assistant general secretary of Unite Gail Cartmail said, “Shame on this government because they have privatised our healthcare with no mandate…If health is protected, why is it in there? Take it out”.
A poll commissioned by Unite revealed that 68% of voters in marginal Conservative seats were against the inclusion of the NHS in TTIP. As public awareness of this secret deal grows, so does public opposition, with a poll by 38 Degrees finding that 3 times as many people thought TTIP would be bad for Britain, as thought it would be beneficial.