Why local authorities should join the fight against TTIP

Why local authorities should join the fight against TTIP

Date: 23 June 2015

I don’t remember when and how I first heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), it was certainly a while before I even considered becoming a councillor.

I do remember a meeting of activists which was discussing possible directions the group will take in the following few months, where a small subgroup of us formed to talk about TTIP. At the time it seemed almost incomprehensibly huge (still kind of does), and we weren’t at all sure what we, in our tiny group, should try to do about it. Especially as none of us had much spare time – I was just starting my election campaign which took up any spare time I had, and then some. It ended up kind of dropping as an action point for the group, but we were all still worried.

So when a few months later I found myself as one of six Green councillors on Oxford’s City Council, it was obvious to me that I have to do something to draw attention to this dangerous and still relatively little-known trade deal, and to try and get the council to take a stand against it. My fellow Green councillors whole heartedly agreed, and we submitted it as a motion to the September 2014 full council (full council meets every two months). This by the way followed an attempt by our Green County councillors to raise a similar motion over the summer. However that was rejected by the County Council legal team, as they couldn’t see any direct relevance for the council!

In our motion we wanted to highlight both the breadth of opposition to the deal and how it would be damaging to local authorities. So we quoted UNISON’s stance on TTIP, who pointed out that it is “a profound threat to public services” and we mentioned how it will force local authorities to open their procurement processes to US corporations. Such interference will have profound effects on how local authorities operate – from lowering of service standards to lowering of staff pay. In councils like Oxford, who – for example – is committed to paying a living wage, such undermining of the procurement process is in fact an undermining of democracy, as it forces the council to sign contracts which go against decisions made by the democratically elected representatives of the city.

And it goes beyond that – the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, one of the most nefarious aspects of the deal, will undermine an important role of a local council’s, that of boosting the local economy. At the moment local councils can for example choose to favour local produce and local suppliers. However, with the threat of ISDS litigation (which a local authority on an increasingly-tightening budget can ill afford) they could be forced to forgo that “favouritism” as it will be considered an unfair advantage to local farmers, one that producers from across the EU and US can’t compete with. Such a change will have a crushing effect on attempts to build resilient communities.

We also pointed to the fact that this trade deal is negotiated in secret. And frankly, that fact alone is enough for me to be against it – the lack of any information on the negotiations, other than what has been leaked, to me means that I cannot trust it, even if the little that has been leaked so far was much less problematic than it is.

However, our motion was amended by the Labour majority. This amendment changed the motion from a complete rejection of TTIP to a motion supporting the deal in principle, but calling on the government not to allow anything that would harm public services, environmental standards and labour agreements.

To me this completely missed the point and exhibited a lack of understanding about what TTIP really is, which is a vehicle for corporations to strengthen their hold on the economies of both the EU and the US. This trade deal is – on principle –a threat to our democracies since the power is all in the hand of corporations, and its overarching aim is to increase their profitability. It is not about increasing employment opportunities, nor is it about helping small to medium manufacturers to export their goods. It is about one thing, and about one thing only – corporate profits. Health, workers’ rights, the environment, even the local economy – all that be damned, as long as the big companies in the US and EU can turn an even greater profit. That is why this deal should be rejected by anyone who cares about our communities, anyone who wants to live in a thriving, healthy society. Sadly not everyone gets it yet.

Find out more about the campaign to unite councils across the UK in the fight against TTIP on www.ttipfreezone.org.uk