We’ve written a bit about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in the past, and it remains a hot topic as negotiations rumble on. TTIP has prompted protests across the EU this year due to its possible negative impact on food and health safety standards, local economies and businesses, procurement of goods and services, and to a wider extent, democracy itself. Activist groups have been relentless in their efforts to raise awareness about and oppose the trade deal, but according to a recent article in The People’s Daily Morning Star, local councils are beginning to make their disapproval heard as well. In Britain, and across the EU, grassroots groups are pushing local authorities to declare themselves as TTIP-free zones. The article’s author says that it may be a purely symbolic gesture from councils, as ultimately they will not have a direct say in whether the deal is passed, but their opposition has political value nonetheless.
The partnership will affect the existing powers granted to local authorities, so it’s little wonder why many are getting involved in the TTIP discussion. Many fear that the deal will limit the influence local councils have, particularly when it comes to procurement and delivery of local public services. At the moment, EU rules allow public authorities to take environmental and social factors into account when awarding contracts. They may decide to only buy fairtrade or organic produce, or to support local economies by procuring goods and services from SMEs in the area. However, under TTIP the European Commission hopes to open local procurement to greater competition across the Atlantic, meaning that “buy local” or environmental initiatives could be threatened. Instead, he writes, procurement may become constrained far more by price alone. The EU estimates that TTIP will induce a 25-50 percent liberalisation of government procurement.
TTIP could also limit local councils’ planning powers. For example, the UK’s Lancashire County Council’s decision to deny planning permission for fracking in the area would be much harder to make under TTIP. For one, the decision could be challenged in corporate courts with the introduction of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This is a system that already exists in other bi-lateral trade agreements, and will allow corporations to sue governments and local authorities for implementing policies that lead to a loss of profits. Take for example, the case of Swedish energy company Vattenfall, who, according to an article in the Independent, sued the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster.
In June Bernd Lange, MEP and chair of the European Parliament International Trade committee, wrote an article in EurActiv.com clarifying his position on TTIP negotiations. He wants TTIP to benefit SMEs and EU citizens, rather than multinational corporations. Mr Lange says he would protect labour rights and environmental standards, aim to exclude public services from the agreement, and oppose the inclusion of the ISDS. He also reiterated that opening US procurement markets to EU companies was a priority goal. Unfortunately, because of the “secret” nature of negotiations, it may be difficult to know what has been agreed upon until the deal is almost finalised.
The People’s Daily Morning Star writes that 19 local councils across Britain have, to some extent, declared themselves TTIP-free zones. A significant number of local authorities in Austria, Germany, France and Belgium have also said they will be TTIP-free. In Spain, there are a total of 39 no-TTIP councils, and the number is also increasing in Northern Italy. As negotiations continue, TTIP will no doubt generate further public discussion about the impact the deal could have on public procurement, local and national economies, and legislation.