About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Sheffield TTIP Roadshow, Compare & Contrast, by Nigel Slack.

The organisers - Vs - The participant.

It has taken me a little while to get hands on the organiser's view of this event (from 1st October) but, having done so, I've been able to compare that to a report I received from a participant shortly after the event. The contrasts are interesting and I hope illuminating. Both mention the problems now at the forefront of public and political campaigns against this TTIP deal but the organisers inevitably spin the positive.

For background, British American Business is a hugely influential and hugely well funded lobbying group. They suggest they are like an international Chamber of Commerce but one look at their website shows the reach they have and the influence they believe they can exert. They fund the influential 'All party parliamentary group on EU-US trade & investment' and the keynote speaker, John Healey MP (Labour), is the chair of this group.

I will make the comparison by quoting from the BAB report and then highlight using italics any discrepancies from the 'participants' comments. My own additional comments are in [square brackets]. The first discrepancy is actually nothing to do with the meeting as such but the preamble to the BAB report. This states;

“On October 1, 2014 BritishAmerican Business and the Sheffield City Region invited businesses and stakeholders from government and local business and trade organisations to participate in a TTIP Roadshow event in Sheffield. Nabarro LLP kindly hosted the event.”

According to my notes from the Full Council Meeting of the same day (1st October) Cllr Dore commented that the role of the LEP in developing the local economy obliged them to advertise the roadshow but they did not put any money into it. So, in essence, as the event was invited to Sheffield by Nabarro Nathanson and not the LEP, the City would not hold an event to balance the roadshow.

However to continue to matters within the event itself.

After introductions came a keynote address by John Healey MP. His key points were;
“First, this is the best prepared bilateral trade deal in history. Prior to the launch of negotiations, governments on both sides of the Atlantic had been assessing the potential and the feasibility of an agreement concluding with the recommendation to launch negotiations for a comprehensive trade and investment agreement. Second, in light of growing competition from other economic regions in the world, TTIP is the opportunity to set a common set of high standards that may function as a template worldwide. Third, this agreement could be beneficial to consumers, workers and businesses in the UK.”

He also suggested;
“If the UK wants to keep its economy successful, it will need this deal.”

On the concerns of the public he said;
“That political leaders and negotiators on both sides have pledged that a trade agreement between the EU and the US will not lower standards and that the National Health Services (NHS) will be protected. However, he also stated that he saw no case for an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system in an EU/US agreement and that this issue should not be a stumbling block for the entire deal.”

Missing comments;
Any deal must be democratically approved by leaders and government (JH thinks it should go to parliament itself).
[Suggests BAB don't like his comments on ISDS or need for democratic debate]

First speaker from the panel was Mark Robson of UK trade and investment. (Gov dept that promotes exports and foreign investment in UK) His comments were;
“pointed out how important the economic and Investment-relationship already is for the Sheffield region and the UK as a whole. Many businesses of all sizes and sectors in the Sheffield region already export to the US, but market access for companies is still limited in various sectors. TTIP can help to remove those limitations to increase the trade and investment relationship.”

Missing comments;
NHS – turn argument on its head, our health companies can be looking to sell services to US; UK provides springboard for US companies to reach Europe so they like to invest here; US market is not easy for UK companies despite common language. [missing comments infer the imbalance of power in transatlantic economic relationships]

Next was Richard Currie of UPS (US parcels & logistics company) he commented;
“TTIP represents an opportunity to remove existing “bottlenecks” in the transatlantic supply chain, and facilitate trade for businesses and consumers. For example, if TTIP results in an increase of the ‘de minimis’ threshold (the value of goods below which customs duties are not applied) to $800, lower value goods could be transported at a lower cost and with less administrative effort. Furthermore, studies have shown that the removal of tariffs, could boost transatlantic trade by $120 billion over a 5-year period. Richard emphasised that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumers should be the main beneficiaries of a comprehensive agreement.”

Missing comments; Regulatory compliance or acceptance of each others’ standards (NOT “harmonisation” – Jeffries also rejected that description) – would be especially helpful for pharmaceuticals and locomotives.
[Centred on good for UPS, still suggests ability for US food and agriculture, including GMOs, to be allowed into EU]

Then came William Beckett, CEO of Beckett Plastics, who commented;
“offered an insight into the current challenges small companies face when trading with the US, in particular in regards to cultural and legal differences between the EU and the US. William welcomed the negotiations for a comprehensive trade deal. However, he emphasized the need for government to closely work with trade and business organisations to fully understand the needs of local business.”

Missing comments;
Chairs trade forum of 80 companies in Yorkshire & Humberside, member of 3 US trade organisations with 1000s of members – never heard of TTIP and not excited about it. What would help their exports is to fix the exchange rate (trade tariffs are small problem by comparison). Biggest barriers are cultural, different legal system especially around intellectual property and litigation (don’t automatically get costs). SMEs don’t export to US because they are frightened and apathetic.
[Apparent direct contradiction. Suggests BAB need to bury lack of interest and the uncertainty in UK businesses]

Next up was David Henig, Director for TTIP at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, and the chap that commented to a protester outside the event “it is not the job of Government to protect the public from corporations,” He is reported as commenting;
“Most important element of an agreement will be the removal of existing non-tariff barriers in sectors like chemicals or automotive. But also the removal of existing tariffs will be significant. TTIP will also allow for UK companies to access market segments that are currently protected from outside-US competition. A comprehensive trade agreement will help to keep the EU-US market an attractive destination for business and investment in a more competitive world. It is hoped that the negotiations for TTIP are concluded in 2015 and could be in force by 2017 or 2018. David emphasised that government has been working hard to make the negotiations as transparent as possible and to provide a platform for exchange and input.

Missing comments;
Multiple examples of how things will be freed up – size of shower trays, insurance, dairy products, chemicals, automobiles, customer checks and paper work, lowering trade tariffs so this trade deal will set a high standard economy and set a bench mark when “facing up to China”. The point of ISDS is that it enshrines that we won’t discriminate against foreign investors, who are keen to see that happen.
[Concerned that re; ISDS a civil servant supports corporations over UK citizens]

Finally came PJ Menner from the US Embassy who commented;
“That for US government, the trade agreement is considered to be an important vehicle for more jobs and growth in two economies that have suffered during the financial crisis in 2008. There is a strong political will and commitment in Washington to accomplish a comprehensive agreement ....Especially for the UK, having a comprehensive trade agreement will mean to bring the economic relationship in line with its political and cultural relationship.”

Missing comments; US is committed, Obama sees it as his legacy project.
[Indicates US sees greater benefit for them over UK]

That was the end of the panel presentations and the floor was open to a question and answer session. BAB reported this as;
“During the Q&A, participants used the opportunity to discuss the balance between the benefits of trade and the need to protect citizens. Participants were assured that government will guard the ability to regulate and that there is a common interest on both sides of the Atlantic to keep standards high. Another question addressed potential consequences of a UK outside of the European Union. Participants agreed that it would be challenging for a UK outside of Europe to negotiate an agreement that would offer similar benefits than TTIP. Participants were also informed that a separate chapter for SMEs is currently being discussed as part of the agreement.”

It's impossible to go into the full detail of the Q&A here but my personal reading of the session suggests that the concerns over the NHS, ISDS and the particular concerns of SME's (Small, Medium Enterprises) about predatory corporations were not assuaged by this roadshow. Indeed it seemed they were not listening to the SME concerns and telling them they were wrong. In addition, although NHS got a mention other public services are apparently fair game. Overall the participants seemed not to be reassured by the event and still see TTIP as more of a threat than a boon.

No comments:

Post a Comment