March Update

Trade with the United States is crucial for Europe in the recovery of our economy and job creation, and for making it easier small and medium sized businesses to export.

Moreover, it is important for Europe to set a model for international trade which raises standards of social and environmental protection, rather than diminishes them. Negotiations on a trade agreement aimed at expanding economic opportunities are therefore welcomed by the European Parliamentary Labour Party and the other members of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group within the European Parliament.

Nevertheless, we are aware of the concerns around the TTIP negotiations and will continue to address them. Our main priority is to ensure a robust protection of public services by exempting certain sectors such as education, transport, water supply, waste management, healthcare, and others, as well as making sure that any agreement guarantees high standards of social and environmental protection. Labour is especially committed to protecting the NHS, and will continue to stand up for it.

Labour is the party of fair trade; Labour is the party that puts people and planet before big business. We have a proud record of ensuring that trade agreements do not lead to the exploitation of workers and that banking and finance is properly regulated. As a member of the Cooperative Party issues of fair trade are personally close to my heart.  I believe the values promoted by the 'Alternative Trade Mandate', notably the notion that trade should not harm the environment or infringe human rights, should be at the core of all trade negotiations.

In May 2015 the European Parliament will be voting on a resolution on TTIP. This resolution will be an important opportunity for MEPs to send strong messages to the European Commission, which is currently negotiating a possible agreement with the US. In this process the Commission is not legally obliged to take into account the demands of the European Parliament. However since Parliament has the final say on any trade deals, the Commission will have to consider our position, politically if not legally.

I am strongly committed as a Labour MEP to engage constructively in this debate and to use every available opportunity to influence the negotiations. Sadly, the other main UK political parties have all already announced their final voting intentions. They have therefore lost all power to influence the content of TTIP.

We are working hard to get the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS) out of TTIP, ensure that no standards will be lowered either directly or indirectly through inadequate 'regulatory cooperation' mechanisms, and to obtain a full and unambiguous exclusion of all public services.

Regarding public procurement, we want to rebalance a situation that is deeply unfavourable to EU companies. Most public procurements in the EU are already open to US bidders, while virtually all US procurements are closed to EU companies. Whether we can get unilateral concessions from the US in this field will be an important determinant of the merits of TTIP. We will not accept in any case a deal that would contradict the recently adopted EU rules on procurement, which introduced welcomed innovations such as the possibility for public authorities to favour local providers over distant ones and to include social and labour requirements in tenders.

A preliminary draft of the resolution has been published by the Chair of the International Trade committee, with mind to reaching a compromise between all the political groups in the European Parliament.   I will be working collectively with the other MEPS of the Socialist and Democrat Groups, to which the Labour Party belongs, to support an ambitious resolution along the lines I've presented above.

It is also important to remember that we are still in an early phase of negotiations. We believe that closing the door to discussion is not the solution for problems that are both domestic and global.  Particular sectors considered as crucial can be exempted from agreements.  For example, France succeeded in excluding culture and audio-visual services believing that culture is not only a commercial good and does fulfill other social purposes that are incompatible with the rules of free market. Concerned citizens should continue to ask questions, and it will be our role in the European Parliament to make sure those questions are properly answered.

The new Parliament is determined to put the interests of its citizens at the heart of its work and will not let the Commission and the Council decides what is best for the future of the European Union without a transparent and inclusive process. This applies to the negotiation of TTIP as well as its counterpart TISA – the Trade in Services Agreement, which has raised similar concerns. The sooner citizens and civil society groups raise their voices about TISA the better, and these voices are now increasingly being heard.

Labour MEPs are committed to bringing transparency to trade negotiations. While a degree of confidentiality is necessary in such matters, so as not to hamper the EU's negotiating stance, we believe that the public and its representatives must have the right to be informed when issues being discussed could have a significant impact on their lives.

This is the reason why Labour MEPs pressed the Commission to make its negotiating mandate public. This was achieved on 9 October 2014, and the document is now available here. We have since continued to request the disclosure of all EU positions to the public, and as a result the Commission recently published a number of important documents on 7 January 2015. This release includes concrete text proposals from the EU to the US, for example on food safety. The Commission has committed to update this webpage regularly with further documents. Some text proposals are still not accessible to the wider public, and we are maintaining pressure on the European Commission to disclose them. This is first and foremost the case for the 'EU services offer', which notably contains crucial information on the extent to which public services will be affected by the agreement.

I will continue to raise this issue, particularly in my role as a member of the Culture and Education Committee at the European Parliament. Thank you once again for sending us your views. As parliamentarians, it is always important for us to have input from those we represent when we seek to promote an issue, especially one complex as this one.