Why is everybody so riled up about TTIP?

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May 14, 2015 by Nash Riggins

David_Cameron_and_Barack_Obama_at_the_G20_Summit_in_TorontoIn the past few days, Britain’s political system has been turned on its head. We’ve lost some of the country’s biggest names to belated resignations, seen the appointment of an equalities minister that doesn’t support LGBT equality and launched a war against freedom of speech. But let’s be honest: none of that is important. What we should really be worrying about is cheese.

Have you heard about TTIP yet? It’s been in the works for a couple years now, but it doesn’t make the headlines very often. But now that this silly election is over and done with, chances are we’re going to start hearing a lot more about it.

Dubbed the biggest trade deal in history, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would see the taxes on imported goods slashed in order to simplify trade between the US and Europe. Experts reckon it will add £85bn a year to the European economy, and around £68bn to the US. Studies also suggest the deal will bring EU wages up by half a percent, and that every UK family will be around £400 better off if the deal goes through.

Sounds good, right? Well, a lot of people don’t seem to think so.

At this point, there’s a whole lot of red tape keeping American and EU firms from achieving their full trade potential. For example, car imports are constantly being stifled by trivial American rules demanding that car horns can only be labelled as “horns” – which is kind of a problem for Greek-speaking drivers. Europeans, on the other hand, are more worried about cheese.

Everybody knows that champagne isn’t champagne unless it’s made in Champagne, right? I’ll say it one more time: champagne. Well, a lot of continental Europeans seem to feel the same way about products like cheese. TTIP critics argue that Parmesan cheese can only be labelled as such if it’s crafted in Parma, and that feta must only come from Greece. Right or wrong, cheese purists don’t want Europe flooded with Wisconsin-based feta imitations – and so they’re doing their best to keep TTIP from coming to fruition.

In the UK, left-wingers are pissed off about the trade deal for more practical reasons.

Complaining about the NHS has become a national pastime of sorts. We love to moan about our useless GPs and their ineffective prescriptions – but at the end of the day, the UK’s National Health Service is and should always be pegged as a sterling sociological achievement. Well, a lot of people are scared that TTIP will marginalise the positive impacts of that achievement.

One of the TTIP’s biggest aspects is something called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. This rule will effectively enable huge, multinational corporations to settle business disputes outside of court, giving them more power against various governments. In the case of the NHS, the fear here is that private American healthcare companies trying to settle in the UK could end up suing the NHS for maintaining an unfair monopoly over Britain’s healthcare system.

In the eyes of the law, that’s a case these multinationals would probably win – opening up the floodgates for privatised healthcare in the UK.

Now, to be fair, EU officials have already promised that state-backed healthcare institutions would be protected from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. Yet that promise has yet to alleviate fears for one, simple reason: most of the negotiations relating to TTIP have been kept under lock and key.

David Cameron has already pledged his full support for TTIP. Yet you would think a deal of this magnitude would have gotten a bit more coverage along the campaign trail. After all, why wouldn’t Mr Cameron be shouting from the rooftops that we’ll all be £400 better off if we re-elect him to pass this deal?

The reason is because there’s a proverbial gag order on what the deal entails. MEPs aren’t allowed to discuss the finer points of TTIP with their constituents, and so a lot of the public discourse surrounding this deal is guided by fear and rumour. You can bet that will all change pretty soon.

Having vowed to resist a third term in office, it’s time for David Cameron to start thinking about his legacy as Prime Minister. If TTIP actually gets approved, it will have been the biggest trade deal in history – completely remoulding the global economy as we know it. If you ask me, that’s definitely one for the mantel piece. Yet in order to reach this monumental achievement, he’s got a lot to answer for.

British voters are genuinely worried about the ways in which this agreement will alter our economy (and not just to protect Wensleydale). There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition; however, we’ve got every right to be afraid of multinational conglomerates waltzing in and suing our government institutions for everything they’re worth.

Unfortunately, none of us get a say in how the deal plays out. All we can do is sit and wait. But if David Cameron wants his party to remain in power after 2020, he’d do well to have a long, hard think about the long-term implications of this deal. We may have a lot to gain – but there’s also a lot to lose.

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