Wednesday, February 18, 2015

British Shipping and Freight Forwarding Interests Need More Details of TTIP

Public Concerns Over US - EU Trade Deal Secrecy Merit Investigation
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – UK – US – The publically expressed resentment in the UK to the secrecy surrounding TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which promises closer trade between the United States and the European Union has been acknowledged by the government this week. At a meeting on February 16, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable and UK Trade Minister, Lord Livingston asked Commissioner Malmström to give senior UK parliamentarians access to TTIP treaty text as it is developed, so that they can monitor progress and ask questions on the public’s behalf, whilst British shipping and freight forwarding interests also expressed concerns.

Many observers consider the resentment is well founded, with a history of protectionist measures the US cannot often be said to claim to be the welcoming free market it would wish to appear. Many in countries across Europe see this as a key to unlock the door for more Americanisation whilst brand transfer and business ownership in the other direction is perceived to be a much more difficult process.

In addition the UK government is to offer to make other key documents relating to the progress of the negotiations available to all UK MPs and members of the House of Lords, ensuring that they have the same access as Members of the European Parliament to view EU-authored TTIP negotiating materials. This new offer of access follows Brussels’ recent moves to publish hundreds of pages of previously-restricted material.

The reasons given for the TTIP being of benefit are a reduction in trade costs, cheaper and wider ranges of products (read by many as more imports) and increased job opportunities and wages. These will depend on the increase in trade the respective authorities expect but no credible specific statistics are given. The government claims that ‘TTIP will benefit small businesses who will find it easier to export because of reduced regulatory burdens and tariffs, smoother customs processes and access to US public procurement markets'. This last is a two way street and many in Britain see this as a way to further privatise the NHS, with US health providers given free access to provide services.

Clearly there would also need to be a major shift in the US customs approach to imports to enable this, currently a shipper with a variety of destinations for his goods must first set up a network of clearance agents for each one. Additionally there are historical problems when it comes to setting up comparatively simple co-operations as pointed out by Robert Windsor, Policy & Compliance Manager at the British International Freight Association (BIFA), who said:

“BIFA has some concerns about the TTIP negotiations, which when initially announced promised significant benefits to all parties, however, now things have gone quiet, which has to be a concern. Obviously we hope that the trade agreement will be put in place because boosting trade will benefit our Members. Most worryingly is the lack of specific details coming out from government at this time. When one considers how long it took to get the agreements on relatively simple supply chain security matters such as the mutual recognition of Authorised Economic Operators (AEO) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) yet the US/EU TTIP is so much more complex than these.”

The deadline for ‘breaking the back’ of this agreement, as we reported last year, has long since passed and, for his part, Vince Cable seems also strangely reticent to remain as enthusiastic as he has been previously on the subject of an all-encompassing trade deal. In a prepared statement he said:

“I dislike the level of secrecy that has surrounded the transatlantic trade deal so far and can completely understand why some people are worried. I have met many campaign groups over the last 9 months to discuss this and taken on board many of their concerns. I will be working to ensure all British interests are protected and that the deal can be properly scrutinised.

“Where our interests are not harmed by disclosure, then disclosure must take place. At the moment people in Britain with questions about what is on the negotiating table for TTIP think that Europe and the US have something to hide. This is not the case. I have been pushing for as much of the negotiation as possible to be done out in the open.

“We must also clearly demonstrate that the NHS and our public services are protected as a priority. The EU has recently given us very strong assurances that TTIP would not in any way endanger them. I want to see that reflected in the treaty drafting. As with the NHS, our high standards when it comes to the environment or food are not up for negotiation. If we can recognise mutually high standards with the US we will do so. But where we can't, US businesses will have to raise their game to meet our higher standards, not the other way around.

“I want to tighten up the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause proposed for the treaty. Some people fear that investors could sue us for losses and win if the government takes a decision - on health, the environment or consumer safety – in the wider public interest. We must demonstrate clearly that this could never happen.”

It seems the multiple issues covered by the TTIP are causing a backlog of problems, Europe consists of a range of very different cultures despite the unification by the European Union but certain standards in the US would currently be considered more stringent, and just as many more lax, level and type of food additives, permitted pharmaceuticals etc.

To the European observer the US has a history of making ‘deals’ skewed in its own interests. In the minds of many, legislation such as the ‘Jones Act’ which insists on US built vessels, owned by native companies and manned exclusively by American crews when the carriage of any domestic freight by water is involved, is a typical example of protectionist policy, hiding behind a cry for security dating back almost a century.

Similarly the millions of dollars lent to countries such as Britain, France and Italy after the Great War, all with the specific instruction that the money be used to purchase US farm produce (which was in surplus with no market) to then be sent to the starving population in Austria (to whom the US could not lend directly). When Austria defaulted those countries who had simply passed the money on were held liable for the full amount of the debt. Instances like these stay long in European minds and the government needs to make very sure we are not entering a trade deal in which only one side steps from the table smiling.