Janice Atkinson MEP (UKIP, South East England) has written this article for Get Britain Out:
On Friday the House of Commons discussed a backbench business debate on the proposed EU-US free trade agreement, named the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). One of the most important aspects frequently talked about was how the Treaty would impact the NHS.
There is a real fear in Britain, as well as other countries, about this agreement giving business huge new powers to intimidate policy makers, which could lead to enforced privatisation of our NHS and of other public services.
Huge Disquiet Over TTIP Being Ratified: How Will This Affect The NHS?
Firstly, let’s assess what is TTIP likely to bring? Its supporters boast it will generate massive amounts of trade and jobs. However, trade barriers between the UK and US are already low, so it is questionable what added value a free trade agreement with the US would create. Also, the US is always in the top three trade partners of the EU (China and Russia being the other two) already.
TTIP is held up as an example of how Britain needs to be in a big union to negotiate a good deal with the US. However, many countries already have free trade agreements with the US (Australia, Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Cost Rica, Canada, Mexico, Oman, Panama and Singapore to name just a few). These countries do not have to be part of a bloc to form a deal with the US, so why do we?
So what if the TTIP is ratified, how could this affect the NHS? Firstly, the Treaty will change the emphasis of NHS health care, focusing on transnational organisations rather than the care of patients. Transnationals will have the right to bid for all of government spending, including on health. This will place restrictions on the ability of the UK Government to control the cost of things like medicines or regulate any transnational companies which provide health services.
Transnational corporations will also have the right, under the investor state dispute settlement clauses of TTIP, to claim massive compensation if the government introduces initiatives which have the potential to affect corporation’s profits. This includes, (but is not limited to) public health regulations, health protection measures and health promotion policy.
TTIP would also lead to ‘harmonisation’ between the US and EU, which will lead to the standards of healthcare in the EU being lowered to those of the US. Currently in the EU, tests are required to prove substances are not harmful, but standards are likely to be lowered to the US practice of substances being assumed to be safe until proved otherwise.
Canada and other countries have exempted their health services from such trade agreements, however our government has not. Some TTIP promoters say that the NHS will be exempt from the Treaty because it is a public service. However this is misleading. In the context of free trade agreements, ‘public service’ means only those services which are not supplied on a commercial basis or are not in competition with other service providers. After 2012, the NHS does not fit with this description. Unfortunately TTIP negotiations are based on what is called a ‘negative listing’ which means if negotiators don’t specifically list a sector like health as exempt, it will count as being included in the Treaty.
In July, a letter from the EU’s chief negotiator to John Healy MP was leaked, downplaying the fact the public health services are included in TTIP, and so there is no need to fear for the NHS. There is nothing new about this, as the European Commission has been using the same arguments to defend the inclusion of health services in all previous trade agreements. Trade experts point out that public services are still highly vulnerable when included in negotiations, particularly when private operators have been granted access to public sector contracts as with the NHS.
The Commission would have us believe the NHS would be unlikely to be affected by TTIP. However, a similar deal has lost the Slovak Republic millions of dollars against Dutch insurance company Achmea for reversing the country’s unpopular privatisation of health insurance. This is also happening in Australia where tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently using investor state dispute settlement provisions to sue the Australian government for billions of dollars. The dispute is over the Australian public health law which stipulates all cigarettes must be sold in plain paper packaging.
EU Member States are allowed to exempt certain services, such as the NHS, from the effects of TTIP. However, the only reservation the British government has submitted has been for ambulance services, and the window to exempt services will expire when the Treaty negotiations are completed.
Why isn’t this government doing anything to safeguard the NHS? The inclusion of the NHS in the TTIP agreement is hugely unpopular. A survey of 2,600 voters across 13 marginally-held Conservative seats found that 64% said Cameron should seek to exclude the NHS from the Free Trade Agreement altogether. A further 54% called for him to veto the agreement if necessary in order to safeguard the NHS.
Are we ready for a FTA/EU deal where a one-size-fits-all bureaucrat negotiates across 28 Member States and pulls apart our NHS? Ukip says the NHS must be exempted from this Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Janice Atkinson, MEP
Unfortunately, the Great British Public are powerless to stop Cameron riding roughshod over their opinions and implementing this agreement without NHS safeguards. The only thing the British people can do is vote to Get Britain Out of the EU when our In / Out referendum finally arrives.