Fact Check: is Brexit the way to escape TTIP?

‘If Steve McQueen can do it …“ Gabriele Maltini

You have been issuing tweets asking if I am a TTIP denier. I say to you that I am working flat out to persuade voters to support Brexit. If the campaign succeeds, TTIP in the UK will be dead in the water._

David Davies MP, open letter to The People’s NHS, May 18

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and EU is a profound and ambitious project. Its effect will be felt in every corner of the two economies. It aims at further reducing trade barriers and encouraging the international flow of investment and production across the Atlantic.

Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) recently agreed between the US and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, TTIP represents a new generation of trade liberalisation treaties designed to make up for the failure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to agree new global tariff reductions – as well as an attempt to spur it into action.

Critics say TTIP will further transfer national economic sovereignty to international institutions and threatens the likes of the film industry in France; the National Health Service in the UK; and European financial services, agricultural products and consumer protection. They are not swayed by the prospect of more efficiently allocating resources or enhanced competitiveness. In an echo of the deadlock at the WTO, the battle lines have been drawn between economic libertarianism and anti-globalism; between the multinationals who would benefit and vulnerable smaller businesses and their employees.

NHS protests in UK. Global Justice Now, CC BY-SA

The British agenda

Within the EU and world politics, the UK tends to take a liberal stance in favour of the free market. TTIP is an opportunity to promote this agenda, and is a much better fit with the UK’s economic profile than many of its EU neighbours. Should the UK vote to leave the union, it would inevitably weaken the EU’s enthusiasm for TTIP.

But that does not mean the UK is an indispensable player in the game. Since the start, the European Commission has led the negotiation from Europe’s side. Member states and other relevant players are only consulted, for which Brussels has been heavily criticised.

A vote for Brexit in the EU referendum would enable the UK to pursue its liberal agenda with other world powers without the restraints of the EU. Despite US rhetoric that the UK would be left at the “back of the queue” for trade negotiations in the event of a Brexit, it would not be difficult for the two countries to strike a similar deal to TTIP given their common political and economic outlook.

Having said that, the UK would have little leverage in such a negotiation both because it would have reduced bargaining power without the support of the EU and because the US sees TTIP and TPP as new standards for international economic law without much space for compromise. In parallel, the UK would have a freer hand to establish a unique independent position in trade negotiations with the likes of China and other Asian powers – albeit amid much uncertainty.

Back of the queue? ImageFlow

Verdict

It is technically true that the UK would probably not be a part of TTIP in the event of a Brexit. But TTIP would continue and the UK’s free-market approach to international trade would make it highly likely to promptly negotiate a similar deal with the US – and probably other countries. Far from leaving TTIP “dead in the water” from the UK’s perspective, a Brexit is more likely to move the country to pursue the same goals in uncharted waters instead.

Review

Sam Fowles, researcher in international law and politics, Queen Mary University of London

I broadly agree with this author’s characterisation of the issue. As an indication of successive UK governments’ attitude to trade, I would add that the country is already a party to around 90 bilateral investment treaties with many other countries including China, Argentina, South Africa and India. These all contain provisions similar to the controversial aspects of TTIP.

My only reservation would be the author’s statements about the campaign against TTIP. He says it is “not swayed by the prospect of more efficiently allocating resources or enhanced competitiveness”. Many of the critics of TTIP argue the opposite – that it will not efficiently allocate resources and will damage competitiveness. They believe that by enhancing the political power of multinationals, it will increase trends towards monopoly and will have little real economic benefit.

I also wouldn’t agree that you can characterise the debate as merely “economic libertarianism and anti-globalism”. We have seen opposition in the UK parliament from economic libertarians like Peter Lilley, who worry about TTIP’s effect on sovereignty and democracy.