Tue. February 25, 2014
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I welcome this debate and I am honoured to have put my name to the motion before the House. I am also pleased to be a member of the all-party parliamentary group on European Union-United States trade and investment, and I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) in guiding our work. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for missing his opening remarks. I was at a hospital appointment and I thought the debate would start slightly later in the day.
I must be honest and admit that when I was approached to join the all-party group, I had little knowledge of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, but I quickly gained an understanding of the potential economic significance of the deal if it goes ahead. Wales is an exporting nation and outperforms the other component parts of the UK. We have a trade in goods balance of £4.9 billion based on 2012 figures; by contrast, England has a deficit of £122 billion. Despite recent setbacks in Welsh exporting figures, this potential trade deal is hugely significant.
It is right and proper that the House of Commons debates this issue, such is the potential far-reaching impact of the trade deal for the economy and public services. If I was a Member of the Welsh Parliament, knowing what I know now I would also be demanding a debate and Welsh Government attention. I read today in the Western Mail that the First Minister is visiting the United States, and I would like to know whether he has raised the TTIP with the authorities there and the Westminster Government.
The UK Government have published a swish pamphlet promoting the positive potential of the TTIP, and we will hear many speeches in favour of it today. To add balance therefore, I will concentrate on some of the issues that I believe policy makers at Welsh and UK level, and the EU negotiating team, should focus on during negotiations.
Enthusiasm in Wales for the European Union values of the single market—one of the largest trading blocs in the world—is high, as it is for the fact that Welsh citizens are allowed to travel unimpeded and without visas within its territories, with the rights and protections that affords us in workers’ rights and human rights. I have my concerns about the privatisation obsession of the EU, but I believe the Welsh economy benefits more from being a constituent part of the EU than from being outside it. That is why my party argues for a full and equal voice for my country as a member state.
Coming from that position, it is difficult to argue wholeheartedly against building on the EU single market by developing the TTIP. The EU single market essentially offers free movement of goods, services, capital and labour, and the TTIP would extend the same principles for goods, services and capital. However, putting a Marxist cap on for a minute, the TTIP would neglect labour—[Interruption.] I had to get it in. As I will explain later, that creates a potential imbalance that worries me and on which I need reassurance from those on the Government Front Benches.
It is a further irony that the Government are trumpeting an EU-US trade deal while edging closer towards withdrawal from the EU in all their thoughts and deeds. I suspect that some Tories secretly harbour the desire to withdraw from the EU while remaining in some future US free trade area. As President Obama recently alluded to, and as common sense would dictate, why would US companies—or for that matter any other major trading country—invest here if it did not afford access to the European Union?
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Although this is a good news story in that it can create about £10 billion for the UK economy, does the hon. Gentleman agree it is important that we help and encourage small businesses to take advantage of this, and of every help given to them that the Government can afford?
Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention and I will go on to agree with some of the points the hon. Gentleman has just raised.
We in Plaid Cymru support the principle of affording exporters in Wales the opportunity to further their trade with the USA. It is the largest destination for Welsh exports outside the EU and involves 23.7% of all trade, which naturally leads to the question of whether there is actually a problem to solve with the proposed trade deal. Certainly, we would support any deal that was of mutual benefit and in the Welsh national interest, and we would want guarantees that SMEs are genuinely afforded entry into the market with the chance to create more jobs and grow the economy. For example, exports from local farmers in Carmarthenshire could benefit from a favourable deal. Indeed, the Farmers Union of Wales is very encouraged by TTIP.
However, Plaid Cymru would be opposed to any deal that ended up favouring big corporations and allowed the further hollowing out of industrial sectors of the Welsh economy. We also have grave concerns about the proposed EU-US trade deal as it currently stands with regard to investor-state dispute settlement—I will talk a little more about that later in my remarks.
Much needs to be done to increase transparency in these negotiations. I am an avid follower of the Twitter account launched by the EU negotiating team, but much greater effort needs to be made by the EU and member states to explain and inform people about the TTIP. Economists at the Munich-based Ifo Institute found that a trade deal would lead to a 13.4% increase in US income per head in real terms over the long term, but an average rise of only 5% among the EU 27, now 28—we in Wales welcome our friends in Croatia to the EU table.
The figures assume that the US and EU agree on a deal that would lower transatlantic tariffs, and harmonise and ease regulations in many sectors that are often referred to as non-tariff barriers to trade. Trust in any trading partner is essential. That is why last year I read with great concern the revelations that the National Security Agency surveillance programmes had been spying on Governments in Europe, with the help of intelligence services in the UK. The spying revelations had the potential to derail the proposed deal, given the understandable outrage in some European capitals. I am amazed that there has not been more public outrage here, given the level of intrusion into private lives. I imagine that had any other foreign Government pursued such blanket intrusion, the UK Government would have armed the nukes. Their deafening silence about the NSA revelations indicates a worrying collusion aimed at sidestepping UK civil liberty protections. That is why it is incredibly important that, at every stage of the negotiations on any deal, there is full transparency and accountability, and that all groups are allowed input. This is a matter for all EU nations and regions, not just the leaders of a few select large and economically powerful states within it.
EU Trade Ministers agreed on a mandate for the European Commission to conduct negotiations with the USA on the TTIP. A lack of transparency in future negotiations is a major cause for concern, yet EU Governments insist on keeping the mandate confidential. The trumped-up excuse—that it is necessary for negotiations —does not stand up to analysis, as it will be available for the US to access. The mandate on the terms of any deal should be freely debated in the European Parliament and in European Parliaments, and not arrogantly assumed by the European Commission and state Governments.
The French Government have apparently secured the exclusion of culture and audiovisual services from the mandate. There are still many risks that deserve the same attention. There are serious concerns that negotiations could lead to investor claims that threaten core EU standards and rules on the protection of public services—such as the NHS, which was raised earlier—intellectual property, food safety, GMO crops, and health and environmental standards.
Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case. Does he agree that it is not enough simply to plead for special exemptions to one or two sectors, such as the NHS? Corporations should not be given new rights to sue the Government for legislating in the public interest, whatever the sector. That bit of the TTIP should simply be taken out.
Jonathan Edwards: I fully concur with the views of my hon. Friend. I will go on to talk on that specific issue in the remaining parts of my speech.
Concerns over data protection have been completely overshadowed by the US Prism spying programme. The US is much better organised in economic and industrial policy and will have no qualms about defending its narrow interests, making the need for transparency in the negotiations imperative. Most worrying about the TTIP as it stands are the proposals for investor state dispute settlement. This would weigh law in favour of big business, allowing them to sue Governments that attempt to defend their citizens. Secretive panels of corporate lawyers could circumvent legal protections and override the will of Parliaments.
David Mowat: What proposals does the hon. Gentleman have to protect British investments overseas if he is so passionately against the current structure he mentions?
Jonathan Edwards: I am extremely interested in that point. I was going on to say that this is a deal between two advanced trading blocks with advanced legal systems. The hon. Gentleman’s argument would stand ground only if he believes that the United States is a banana republic, and I am sure that that is not what he genuinely feels.
Clauses written into trade treaties are often used when dealing with developing countries with weak legal infrastructure, so that companies can protect their investments. However, they should not be necessary in developed economies with some of the best and most highly functioning legal systems anywhere in the world. The hearings are held in secret and would undoubtedly undermine the ability of societies, citizens and communities to contest decisions that affect them. The Democracy Centre has called it:
“a privatised justice system for global corporations.”
Plaid Cymru completely opposes any proposals for investor-state dispute settlements within the TTIP, and believes that they are an affront to democracy and should be removed immediately.
Concerns over free trade agreements and the potential for an unequal relationship are not unfounded. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico has undoubtedly been of greater benefit to the US and the larger corporations located within it, while US jobs are being outsourced to Mexico for lower wages. On the whole, this has been to the detriment of Mexican home-grown industry, as US corporations have moved in. It has also been detrimental to manufacturing and industrial blue collar jobs in the US, which have been outsourced, and to the small businesses in local communities that such jobs supported.
When out in the States in the summer, during a meeting between the all-party group on European Union-United States trade and investment and a member of President Obama’s inner circle, we were informed that future US economic strategy will be based on three pillars. One is to make the most of the fracking boom in the States, which means that it is now a net exporter of energy. The idea is to offer energy subsidies for heavy industry and manufacturing companies to reverse the flight to the Asian Pacific rim. This will mean that US companies will be at a huge advantage in being more competitive in any TTIP deal.
David Mowat: The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the Mexico-US agreement was principally of benefit to the US and multinationals within the US. My understanding, however, is that since that agreement was signed the Mexican economy has grown by an average of 8% or 9%—far more than it had been growing previously. How do those factors stack up?
Jonathan Edwards: I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to distract me from the point I was trying to make. I would go as far as to say that the TTIP advantage available to the US could lead to the stripping of my country’s manufacturing base.
To mitigate that potential threat, Wales must have control over its natural resources and energy production infrastructure, so that we can ensure that our manufacturing base is competitive and is not put at a disadvantage. We are a net exporter of electricity, which is why my party has called for the establishment of a not-for-profit Welsh energy company to build up an asset portfolio to protect domestic consumers and our economic base.
You, Madam Speaker, will appreciate that I, the son of a trade union shop steward, am concerned that the TTIP will not include the movement of labour, hence my Marxist critique of the current proposals. As Gary Younge wrote in The Guardianin 2001:
“Our governments are trapped in a morally warped and ideologically unsustainable paradigm. They applaud the free movement of capital; they abhor the free movement of labour.”
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