The UK has fired back at growing domestic criticism of a planned EU trade deal with the US, accusing unions and other sceptics of spreading myths and misinformation.
David Cameron, prime minister, has called the mooted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) a “once in a generation” opportunity to inject new life into economies on both sides of the Atlantic.
The government claims it would boost the UK economy by as much as £10bn per year with individual households benefiting by up to £400 a year.
The negotiations, launched last year, are facing increasingly vociferous criticism in the UK, Germany and other EU member states from a broad coalition of antitrade, consumer, environmental and labour union activists. They charge that an agreement negotiated in secret will force weaker US food safety and other standards on Europeans and open local regulations and institutions to legal challenges from American corporations.
Lord Livingston, the UK trade minister, told reporters on Monday that those criticisms were largely unfounded and that it was time to “separate off reality and myths”.
With tariffs already low for most products traded across the Atlantic, the negotiations have focused mainly on how to reduce regulatory barriers and eliminate or “harmonise” duelling technical requirements and other standards.
Rather than weakening regulation, however, the deal would help set global standards and raise them around the world, Lord Livingston said.
“This is not about reducing standards. This is about creating a single very high standard,” he told reporters.
A plan for “investor-state dispute settlement” to allow US companies to take contractual disputes to special arbitration panels would change almost nothing about the UK’s legal landscape, said Lord Livingston. He added that through 90 existing treaties, the UK had already been subject to similar clauses for an aggregate 2,000 plus years and had never lost a case.
If anything, the EU’s proposed text would close existing loopholes, Lord Livingston said. He also rejected criticism that such a mechanism would open the door for US healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to challenge decisions by the National Health Service.
Lord Livingston’s intervention is part of an effort by European advocates of the deal to address growing criticisms and sell the benefits of the pact.
Anti-TTIP campaigns on social media and other platforms have already had an impact on the negotiations. Criticism of the proposed protections for foreign investors, particularly in Germany, led the European Commission to suspend investment negotiations with the US earlier this year so that it could hold a public consultation on the subject. This closed in July with more than 150,000 public submissions.
Polls have also started to show that the critics may be having an impact on public opinion.
A YouGov poll last week commissioned by 38 Degrees, the British campaign group, showed 39 per cent of Britons thought the deal would be bad for the UK.
Just 13 per cent of the more than 2,000 people polled said it would be good for the country, while 33 per cent did not know and 15 per cent said they thought it would make no difference.
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