Battlelines to defend the NHS from privatisation are being drawn up in a Manchester protest tonight against transatlantic partnership negotiations.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is a trade agreement between the US and Europe that detractors say could have a catastrophic impact on the UK economy.
Negotiations began in July last year and are expected to be finalised by 2015 to avoid clashing with the US presidential elections in 2016.
UNISON say the agreement could lead the way to the privatisation of public services, including the NHS, and may also pose a threat to the regulation of chemicals used by the pharmaceuticals and food industries.
Kevan Nelson, UNISON North West Regional Secretary, said: “TTIP gives multinational companies the right to challenge democratic decisions to provide services in the public interest rather than for private profit.
“We fear for what it could mean for our public services in the future – including the NHS. All the evidence shows that where services have been privatised, services and working conditions deteriorate.
“We believe more services need to be provided by the public sector directly, and we fear that TTIP would make it harder for a democratically elected Government to do this.”
UNISON’s No TTIP! Manchester public event will feature a number of international guests including Melinda St Louis of Public Citizen (USA) and Ulrike Herrmann, author of the new TTIP briefing ‘Free Trade: Project of the Powerful’.
They will join representatives from a number of leading trade union and activist figures in the anti-TTIP movement in Britain including, War on Want, World Development Movement, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and others.
A national day of action is also planned across the UK on July 12, under the hashtag #noTTIP.
John Hilary, 49, Chief Executive of the anti-poverty charity War on Want, says he regularly meets with UK officials to keep pressure on them to withdraw from negotiations.
He told MM that in a recent meeting he told ministers that War on Want did not believe government claims has been making about the gains that will come to the British economy as a result of TTIP.
Hilary, from London, said one government minister replied: “Yeah you’re right, they’re not really as credible as we’ve made them out to be, we don’t believe that they hold water.”
Hilary added: “It’s important we tell that to people, even the government doesn’t believe its own spin on this.”
Detractors, including Mr Hilary, also say the partnership could open the door for corporations to sue the government should they receive substantial losses as a result of the new laws, pointing to a similar situation in the US.
In 1994, Canada, Mexico and the United States signed The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), creating a trilateral rules-based trade bloc in North America.
In 2013, oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources is moving forward with a $250million NAFTA lawsuit against Canada.
Mr Hilary says this is the core reason why the charity is so opposed to TTIP.
“These new powers that are going to come to multinational corporations to take governments before International Arbitration Courts, and to sue them for damages, are completely new powers which elevate these corporations to the same level as the nation state,” Mr Hillary told MM.
“And that’s so dangerous because it’s not just between the EU and the US that they are doing this, they are deliberately setting this out as being a global template to set the standard for all other trade and investment agreements to come.
“So they’re really trying to re-write the rules of the economy and they’re writing it entirely in favour of business with no consideration to human rights, to labour standards, to environmental protection safety or anything like that.”
No TTIP! Manchester public event begins tonight from 7pm at UNISON North West Regional Centre, Manchester.
UNISON’s full briefing on why they oppose a TTIP can be found here.
Image courtesy of Uwe Hiksch, with thanks.