April 23 to 29 is a big week for trade agreement negotiations which are taking place for the TTIP in New York and RCEP in Australia. Despite drops in public support for both, negotiators are ploughing blindly on, ignoring the will of the people whose lives will be affected by them.
As the 12th round of trade negotiations for the RCEP commence in Perth (Australia) from 22 April onwards, several civil society organisations in Asia have raised concerns around transparency and possible negative impacts on several issues ranging from access to medicines, tax policy, investor rights and farmers access to seeds. Before the rounds, several participating countries called on India to be more open with its services liberalisation and to boost investment or else to leave the negotiations but as the doors are so firmly closed, no further information on these rounds are currently available.
In the EU and the US, public support for the TTIP is falling. According to a YouGov poll, only 17 percent of Germans think the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. One in three Germans (33 percent) are against the agreement completely. Hardly encouraging news for the negotiators hiding out this week in the Hilton Hotel, downtown New York. Procurement and investment protection were sources of disagreements in the last rounds, and in these meetings the negotiators are aiming to move closer towards agreements in these areas.
Procurement especially is proving a giant sticking point. Including rules and regulations about how local government service providers award contracts, procurement is one of the most contentious issues in the TTIP on both sides of the Atlantic. There is no doubt that the EU has its eyes on the prize of lucrative State level contracts at all levels while claiming at the same time that the EU has the most open procurement markets. European companies can invest in the US, but they do not get the same treatment as US companies and there is nothing to stop local governments from choosing local companies if they prefer. The States are not happy with attempts to open up their procurement rules through trade agreements: they resisted in in the Transpacific Partnership and it is highly likely they will resist again in TTIP.
Likewise in the EU there has been a massive groundswell of grass roots resistance through the TTIP Free Zone Movement which saw its first meeting in Barcelona last week. About 40 mayors and councillors from several European countries for the “First pan European meeting of local authorities and new generation of free trade agreements”. In their Declaration, the Mayors stated:
“We recognise the importance of the trade of goods and services for citizen wellbeing, but we stress that competitiveness and economic growth should not be the only criteria used to determine free trade agreements such as TTIP, CETA and others (such as TISA).
We believe that international trade must be based on criteria that is not limited to mere free trade. We must defend trade which is fair, sustainable, and which upholds labour rights.”
There can be no doubt that the TTIP threatens to deny local authorities of their right to legislation and undertake procurement that protects local jobs, the environment and healthcare services. The negotiations on government procurement leave open a number of questions about the relationship between the TTIP and the transposition of the EU Procurement Directive. These arise not only in terms of scope of the negotiations, prioritisation in negotiations or competence, but also in terms of the extent to which governments could lose crucial policy space to tackle social, environmental and broader public policy aims as part of public procurement policies, including the flexibility still available under European Union government procurement requirements.
The best protection for healthcare services and procurement from commercialisation would be a blanket exclusion from the EU’s trade policies and the TTIP. The second best way would be to ensure that healthcare services and procurement are protected from investor state dispute settlement cases by deleting the investment chapter. Finally, if none of the above proves possible, both public and private healthcare services AND all procurement should be fully excluded not only from their own chapters but from investment protection as well.
International trade agreements should not include healthcare services: decisions about healthcare and procurement are made by Member State and in the US, State level governments, they simply have no place in trade agreements.