David Cameron chose to emphasis TTIP in his speech in Australia, explaining that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – its proper title – will give a ‘rocket boost’ to the global economy.
I find this argument strange. There is very little evidence for it. The study it was based on has been discredited (at least according to WDM), and – in any case – you have to be suspicious of this kind of cost benefit analysis, which only adds the benefits and does no subtraction for the disbenefits.
Similar one-way analyses have been used to justify an end to supermarket restrictions on Sundays and the expansion of Heathrow. It is a kind of fantasyland.
There are three accusations that are being thrown at TTIP at the moment. The first is that it endangers the NHS. I believe this isn’t the case since the European Union has legislation that puts public services beyond the reach of TTIP.
But actually nobody seems to know and I find it extraordinary that, because these issues are not on the mainstream agenda for Labour or Conservative – the BBC fails to pin down the chapter and verse, or even to cover the issues much. Nor do any of the parties volunteer it.
The second accusation is that the special measures will allow corporations to sue sovereign nations for undermining their investments.
This seems to be quite true and bizarrely, presumably because it involves American corporations rather than, say, Romanian ones, UKIP stays silent on the issue.
The third accusation is not really articulated properly and is about the limits of the free market. This is the critique of the research which Cameron uses for his claims about the benefits of TTIP. Again, completely unexamined by the BBC.
There are difficulties here. It is true that open markets will tend to raise all boats, but there are already wide-ranging trade agreements between the EU and the USA and it is not clear how much this one will add.
It is also true that the meaning of free trade has become blunted and coarsened since its great days as the centrepiece of Liberal economics.
What began as a critique of monopoly, and an underpinning of the right of the small to challenge the weak, has become the opposite. Free trade, as understood by mainstream policy-makers, seems to me to have become the absolute reverse: a justification for monopoly and a buttress for the strong and rich to control the weak. This is not its original meaning or its correct one.
It seems to me highly likely, given this, that TTIP is a buttressing of the big over the small – I can’t see how my local healthcare co-op is going to be taking over any American hospitals. It is a means by which the big can ride roughshod over the small – it is a recipe therefore for poorer service and the suppressing of innovation.
Since small businesses create jobs in a way that big businesses are constrained from doing, this would make TTIP a net job destroyer and therefore corrosive of prosperity.
This column is my assertion of the right as a free trader to oppose TTIP. In the absence of clear evidence, it is a technocrat’s charter and, as such, brings the backlash against technocracy – really our biggest threat at the moment – that much closer.