EuroHealthNet has made a concise submission to the open consultation by the Trade Directorate of the European Commission (EC) on controversial aspects of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The specific consultation focuses on measures for investment protection and in particular the Investor to State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS). So why is a health promotion and social equity organisation concerned enough to make its views known on such a subject?
The TTIP is a big deal. The broad facts are set out by the EC here.
On that site you can see that the EU plays a mighty role in setting the rules for trading the elements of our lives, not only internally within member states but globally. The EU actually has an umbrella role in those global agreements and treaties, acting on behalf of its members – and us as its citizens. That is now resurfacing as a controversial issue, as numerous state parliaments are sufficiently concerned by TTIP to indicate that, if it is brought forward, they will want to at least scrutinise the text country by country, which is a significant challenge to EU competences to act collectively. So this is far from a done deal yet. The relevant EU Commissioner recently indicated such a ‘mixed’’ agreement may be necessary (see here)
The stakes are therefore exceptionally high politically and economically. Many business and political leaders in Europe and the USA have advocated strongly for TTIP. But media are increasingly reporting wider concerns: this article is an example among many, about Germany in particular, which exemplifies how what was originally portrayed as a major inter-continental deal is now facing much closer scrutiny (see here).
As usual, when a complex technical matter becomes part of a multi-media and political maelstrom, truths are not always simple to discern. EuroHealthNet was not established to be a lobbying organisation, although it has always had a role to contribute evidence based information. When our attention was initially attracted to TTIP from our monitoring of EU developments affecting health in all policies, we noted with concern that, in smaller but similarly based agreements elsewhere, some public health or environmental measures, notably to tackle sales of tobaccos, had been challenged by what is known as the Investor-to State Dispute settlement process, essentially an international out of court arbitration process for markets, for example as set out by the government in Australia (here). That worried us, as we see international progress on such matters as essential for health promotion.
Following this up, through liaison with stakeholders and policy makers and studying copious publications, led us to conclude that there is indeed a public health interest to be considered and potentially defended in the EU. We realised that the scope of trade agreements potentially covers such a wide range of health related sectors and products, that there are in fact many aspects which ideally will be carefully scrutinised before decisions are made, including for food, safety, environmental and pharmaceutical sectors. Indeed, looking at the DG Trade site now, one will see other global deals being negotiated on services (here) and a recently announced ‘’Green goods initiative’’ (here). Much of those agreements may well be good for the smart, sustainable and inclusive objectives of the overall EU 2020 strategic approach. But we need to be vigilant.
It is important to point out this clear statement by the EU:
No EU free trade agreement forces governments to privatise or deregulate any public service at national or local level. Nor will… any other trade deal which the EU is currently negotiating. Countries that sign up to free trade agreements can keep public monopolies and regulate public services as they see fit…. each country is free to choose the services or activities it wants to allow foreign companies to provide. These choices are known as 'commitments'. The EU always excludes from its commitments:
- publicly-funded health and social services
- publicly-funded education
- water collection, purification, distribution and management services
EuroHealthNet respects the good faith of officials, experts and negotiators who have reassured us of this approach and restated the importance of protecting public health in the EU Treaty articles which set out its importance in all EU policies, including trade. We are also grateful to partners who have helped us to understand relevant technical aspects of TTIP.
Therefore we have made a reasoned submission, which balances general appreciation of the potential mutual benefits of sustainable economic development and trade between the USA and the EU, with support for constructive suggestions how significant improvements may be made to the specific aspects of ISDS mechanisms which risk potentially undermining those commitments, however inadvertently. If such safeguards cannot be guaranteed, EuroHealthNet would be likely to agree with those calling for the TTIP not to be agreed. We have also indicated that ISDS clauses in existing agreements, which the EC has indicated in its consultation document may be flawed, should be revisited and renegotiated.
The end of the open consultation, which has received voluminous contributions from all perspectives, coincides with the next planned round of negotiations between the USA and the EU (here). EuroHealthNet’s submission, which supports elements of expert submissions by other partners and stakeholders in public health sectors, will be published with all the others and we hope will be taken properly into consideration. Like many other transparently funded bodies, we lack ideal resources and capacities to access legal and trade expertise to play deeper roles, but wide solidarity is important in the work on social, economic and environmental determinants of health which we have prioritised for over a decade. We have also sought to raise awareness in those sectors so that citizens are empowered to participate in decisions that may affect their wellbeing significantly.
For all those good health promotion and public health protection reasons, EuroHealthNet will continue to monitor and contribute information where appropriate towards the best achievable decisions, not only on TTIP but on future trade agreements.