CANVASSING a voter at the recent general election in Dublin I was told that TTIP was responsible for water charges. When I tried to dissuade the person, in explaining that actually TTIP wasn’t in place and had nothing to do with water charges, I was told “that I wouldn’t believe you anyway”.
It’s a hard one to explain, when undisputed facts are simply not accepted.
One of the benefits of the leaked documentation from Greenpeace on the TTIP talks is that it has helped to raise public awareness of the issue. The truth is that in the leak we didn’t learn anything new from either the US or the EU side of the negotiations. But that hasn’t stopped people deliberately misrepresenting what’s going on. All trade negotiations take place in private. That’s why it’s a negotiation. But a negotiation is not the same thing as an agreement and unfortunately this point is lost in the debate.
In the minds of some people, TTIP represents a kind of new conspiracy where the corporate world, aided and abated by the European Commission, has hatched a masterplan to impoverish us all by — wait for it — more trade! I would have thought that more trade and investment is good for economic development and new jobs. Not so, according to the keyboard warriors. In their mind, TTIP is a sellout to capitalism and everything else for that matter.
Listening to some people you would think that a deal is already in place. In fact at this stage, given the opposition of Donald Trump, Marine Le Penn, Nigel Farage — not to mention our own brand of Irish populists — the prospects of a deal between the EU and US is increasingly looking unlikely. The truth is that Europe needs a deal more than the US.
It’s time we had a more rounded debate on TTIP. It’s time to dial down the exaggerated claims and the political posturing by the hard left and the hard right, by engendering a more rational discussion on TTIP. Something that Victoria White unfortunately was unable to do when she claimed recently in this paper that I was sent out to “sell” TTIP by some unidentified group or individual.
Are there challenges to Ireland if a TTIP deal comes off? Of course. But there are real benefits too, given the fact that 40% of all international trade is between the US and the EU. Why would any sane thinking person not want a trade deal between the EU and the US? We in Ireland have about 700 US businesses employing 130,000 people and, amazingly, Ireland is the fourth largest investor in the US. If there is one country within the EU that can benefit from a deal it must be Ireland given our existing links with the US.
Whether the naysayers like it or not, Ireland today is one of the most international economies in the world. We do exporting like no other small, open EU economy. The modern Irish economy depends on our ability to trade and win new markets for our goods and services. Nearly 40% of the net new jobs created in the years post-crash came from the exporting sector.
So where is this massive trade deal right now? The negotiation between the EU and US sides is ongoing. Ultimately if a deal ever comes out of this process, the European Parliament will vote on it and all member states would also have to endorse it.
I understand that people are suspicious of the new globalised world in which we live. People feel that their governments no longer control of events. But we are not going to improve standards or accountability by withdrawing into an EU state of protectionism. Globalisation is a reality. We either work with it and try to shape it or others will shape it for us. Would it not be better for the EU and the US to set the trade standards of today rather than let China and Russia do it instead?
The only independent study on the matter — produced by Copenhagen Economic Studies — has realistically set out the threats and opportunities for Ireland. It says the economy will grow and that jobs will be created if a deal is done. It also highlights the need for adjustments across some sectors that could be negatively affected by a trade deal. But the key issue here is that this independent report is measured and balanced.
TTIP is not about lowering our food or environmental standards.
It is not about opening the EU market to hormone fed beef from the US.
It‘s not about giving up on Europe’s precautionary principal when it comes to basic standards.
It is not about changing our laws in respect of GMOs.
It is not about having public policy within the EU written by large corporations.
It is not about the creation of a new super state built exclusively for corporate greed.
The only question that we have to ask about TTIP is whether it can help Ireland‘s recovery. That should be the yardstick upon which any deal should be assessed from Ireland’s perspective.
If ever there was a need for a balanced, broadly based national debate on an issue of public policy it is this. Thanks to Greenpeace, we might now get that.
Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP in Dublin
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