The big US-EU trade deal debate

The Norwich protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) PHOTO: Ann Nic

The Norwich protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) PHOTO: Ann Nicholls and LookSeeClick photography - Credit: Archant

A great opportunity for small businesses worth £10bn to the UK economy, or a secret deal which will put the NHS under threat and give big corporations more powers to sue the Government? Political editor Annabelle Dickson asks trade minister and former BT boss Lord Livingston what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is, and looks at the fears of opponents of the deal.

What is TTIP?

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the largest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated. It is presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.

It aims to remove trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.

On top of cutting tariffs across all sectors, the EU and the US want to tackle barriers behind the customs border – such as differences in technical regulations, standards and approval procedures.

These often cost unnecessary time and money for companies who want to sell their products on both markets. For example, when a car is approved as safe in the EU, it has to undergo a new approval procedure in the US even though the safety standards are similar.

Former BT boss Lord Livingston said he hoped to see political agreement on TTIP during 2015.

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Why do its supporters say we should we be doing this?

Former BT chief Ian Livingston, who joined the House of Lords last summer to become the Government's Trade Minister, says the deal would slash red tape for businesses, create jobs, increase wages and boost the economy.

He said: 'One of the things we are really trying to do is create market access opportunities in the US… in a way that small businesses, in particular, can take advantage of it.'

'What, effectively, a successful TTIP will bring is getting rid of all of the tariffs between the EU and the US - that's going to be good for prices in shops.

'It will create better market access so that UK and European companies will be able to sell to the US and it will create jobs and improve our exports, including our GDP.'

He added: 'It's often talked about being a business thing, but big benefits are going to come for consumers and small businesses.'

What are the concerns?

Campaigners say the talks are being driven by the interests of big transnational companies that want to deregulate markets.

They claim TTIP could make any privatisation of the NHS, and other services, irreversible if the TTIP goes through without any changes, because it will allow big corporations to sue our government if they make changes to the law which affect businesses' profits.

They also claim that it will cut EU farm animal welfare standards to the lower levels in the USA.

There is a growing movement against it, with over 200 organisations, including Greenpeace, War and Want and the TUC signing a joint letter demanding the removal of the provision to allow corporations to sue governments.

Green party candidate for Norwich South Lesley Grahame, who helped to organise a protest in Norwich, said 'The more people know about TTIP, the more angry they become that our elected leaders are willing to trade in hard won democratic gains in every area of life for corporate supremacy.'

Protestors acted out a scene where a rich banker puppeteer on stilts manipulated a hard-pressed nurse representing the NHS in Norwich as part of a protest to TTIP on Saturday.

What does the trade minister say about concerns?

Lord Livingston held a briefing for journalists in London this week where he said: 'To be very clear, it has been stated repeatedly - particularly by the EU Trade Commissioner - that this is not about reducing standards, this is about creating a single, very high standard.

'I think, actually, if the EU and the US does get this regulatory coherence that we've talked about, we can create a higher standard around the world.'

He suggested that the criticisms could be driven by anti-American feeling, saying: 'I don't know whether there is a concern about America, but our job is to put the facts on the table and show that this is a good news story.'

On NHS concerns, the department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: 'The Government is committed that it will remain free at the point of use based on patients' needs, not ability to pay. It must always be for the UK to decide for itself whether or not to open up our public services to competition.'

On food standards, it said: 'It will be easier for food producers on either side to export, but only if they conform to each side's rules on food standards and genetically modified crops.'

A spokesman added: 'TTIP will not decrease environmental standards and targets which we have in place or hold back action on climate change.

'TTIP will not prevent either side from introducing new environmental and low carbon legislation.

'UK sovereignty will not be threatened by TTIP. The EU has made it clear that the freedom of governments to regulate in the public interest will be explicitly protected.

'The investor-state dispute settlement clauses being discussed will not prevent countries taking regulatory action to protect the public or the environment, nor will they overturn or force changes to law.'