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US-EU trade deal isn’t threat to NHS

by Jack Schickler | 06.04.2016

The trade deal the EU is negotiating with the US is under scrutiny for its impact on the National Health Service (NHS). The transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) puts the NHS in “severe danger”, David Owen told the Guardian today.

He is not the only one to worry. Legal advice commissioned by the Unite trade union assessed that TTIP posed a real and serious risk to UK decision-making on the NHS. These concerns also seem to be shared by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Leave campaign group.

One major worry is that the deal might mean NHS services have to open up to private competition. American companies, according to this line of thought, might take us to court under the arbitration mechanism TTIP sets up, and in effect force privatisation. Others fret that TTIP might lead to a change in NHS drug pricing policy – since US pharmaceutical companies often argue that the NHS sets prices too low.

These fears are overstated. Ensuring competition in public procurement does not mean putting public services in jeopardy. The EU has tough rules in this area but, after 40 years of UK membership of the bloc, the NHS sails on.

TTIP negotiators have been clear that the pact would not prevent governments from providing health services. In a joint statement, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and US Trade Representative Mike Froman said “no EU or US trade agreement requires governments to privatise any service” – nor prevents them renationalising those already privatised.

Owen is clearly not convinced by their assurances. But others are. TTIP “will certainly not mean the privatisation of the NHS”, wrote Boris Johnson last October.

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Separately, Johnson has cited the ability to clinch an independent trade deal with the United States as an advantage of Brexit, as has Nigel Farage, supporting the rival Grassroots Out campaign.

For them, the question is not whether we should have an agreement with the United States. Rather, Brexiteers argue we could strike a better bargain if we make that deal on our own account, rather than as an EU member. After all, we would be free to push our own interests instead of having to reconcile them with the priorities of 27 other EU nations.

But this logic assumes the US would give us what we asked for in negotiations. However, the UK economy is less than one-sixth of America’s size, whereas the EU as a bloc is bigger than the United States.

It also assumes that other Europeans’ concerns do not coincide with our own. This is not so. Even if other Europeans do not all follow the NHS model, they still have public healthcare and other public services that they will be keen to shield from American corporations. Other EU nations will also presumably not be eager to see NHS drug prices change, since they often use those prices as a reference. And nor are we the only ones concerned over TTIP arbitration mechanisms – a backlash led by Germany has already caused those provisions to be watered down.

In defending public healthcare, as in many other issues, we can better stand up for British interests as members of a larger bloc. As four ex-health secretaries and nearly 200 health professionals and researchers have argued, we are healthier in the EU.

David Owen did not respond to InFacts’ request for comment. 

Edited by Alan Wheatley

2 Responses to “US-EU trade deal isn’t threat to NHS”

  • Not really when you know more facts than the author about the highly secretive TTIP that does not recognise ‘democracy and transparency’.

    But I know also that CHURCHILL would have voted ‘OUT’ for sure and where just one highly negative element is that once we sign the TTIP, it will destroy the NHS, as the USA-EU trade treaty makes it perfectly clear that, “Monopolies” cannot exist.

    But for those in the ‘stay-in’ camp of the EU debate who cite Churchill as a mover for the EU, this is what Churchill actually said about the EU from his own lips.

    He said that GB “must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe” but did not envisage the UK being part of the EU.

    Indeed in the House of Commons on 11th May 1953, he said:

    “We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed. If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always chose the open sea.”

    Therefore from his own lips Churchill would not surrender Britain’s ‘Sovereignty’ and join what is now the EU, but I have to say what I have read of the ‘in-camp’, they may even turn these words around somehow and try and discredit the great man with untrue EU credentials. Named as the greatest Briton of all time in a nationwide poll, it is very strange that the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, called Churchill “the greatest ever Prime Minister” and went on to say, “If there is one aspect of this man I admire more than any other – it is Churchill the patriot,” he said.

    Well Mr. Cameron if that is so and you so admire Churchill, why do you want to do the absolute opposite of your apparent hero? For that is a dichotomy that we may never know the answer to and where not even the present PM knows the answer to square that circle I am perfectly sure. Come back Winston, for you are sorely missed by the nation and its people.

    ‘The European Union (EU) is Heading Towards Terminal Economic Decline, but where their Politicians Haven’t the Knowledge to Realise What is happening and Why?” – http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-european-union-eu-is-heading.html

  • Much has been written about TTIP being secretive and “behind closed doors”. However if you search “TTIP EU”, you will find this site.

    http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip

    This has the negotiation positions of the EU team, the summaries of each round of negotiations, draft texts for various parts of the agreement. It actually seems very open, if you take the time to look.

    One area that gets a lot of comment is the dispute system that opponents say will allow US companies to force EU countries privatise their public services.

    Here is the EU proposal for that system

    http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2015/november/tradoc_153955.pdf

    And some quotes (“Party” or “Parties” means the governments essentially I have added [Government] for clarity)

    ” 1. The provisions of this section shall not affect the right of the Parties [Governments] to regulate within their territories through measures necessary to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety, environment or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity.

    2. For greater certainty, the provisions of this section shall not be interpreted as a commitment from a [Government] that it will not change the legal and regulatory framework, including in a manner that may negatively affect the operation of covered investments or the investor’s expectations of profits.

    3. For greater certainty and subject to paragraph 4, a Party’s [Government’s] decision not to issue, renew or maintain a subsidy (a) in the absence of any specific commitment under law or contract to issue, renew, or maintain that subsidy; or (b) in accordance with any terms or conditions attached to the issuance, renewal or maintenance of the subsidy, shall not constitute a breach of the provisions of this Section.

    4. For greater certainty, nothing in this Section shall be construed as preventing a [Government] from discontinuing the granting of a subsidy and/or requesting its reimbursement, or as requiring that Party [Government] to compensate the investor therefor, where such action has been ordered by one of its competent authorities listed in Annex III.”

    “For greater certainty, except in the rare circumstance when the impact of a measure or series of measures is so severe in light of its purpose that it appears manifestly excessive, non-discriminatory measures of a Party [Government] that are designed and applied to protect legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety, environment or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity do not constitute indirect expropriations. ”

    The above seems pretty clear cut in it’s defence of a government to utilise private firms as much or as little as they like in (say) a health care system.