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Left-wing campaigners are derailing a US free-trade deal for 'political reasons': Hayes

Debate on the so-called TTIP was suspended this morning amid angry scenes.

Image: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Updated 14.47

LEFT-WING POLITICIANS HAVE been responsible for a “a lot of loose comment” about the proposed free-trade deal between the EU and US, according to one Fine Gael MEP.

And Brian Hayes said the most-controversial aspect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – better known as the TTIP – was being misrepresented by groups who were using the talks to push their anti-globalisation agendas.

“There has been a lot of loose comment about TTIP, people using it for political reasons,” he told EuroParlRadio’s Karen Coleman.

I happen to believe that Ireland can be, maybe, one of the big winners from this if we get this right.”

European Parliamentary elections Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes Source: Kifah Ajamia/PA Archive

Earlier, a European Parliament debate on the controversial free-trade deal was suspended amid angry scenes in Strasbourg.

Over 200 amendments to the plans were put forward yesterday but this morning a decision was taken to suspended the debate by just two votes.

The vote to suspend the debate was passed by 183 votes to 181 after it was supported by centre-right and conservative groups, this includes the European People’s Party of which Fine Gael is a member.

The decision to postpone the debate was roundly criticised by others in the chamber including the Greens in the European Parliament as well as Sinn Féin.

Among the many stumbling blocks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – better known as the TTIP – are everything from preserving workers’ rights and shielding the EU from hormone-enriched US beef, to protecting national products like German sausage.

While one report for the EU put the potential economic benefit to member states at up to an extra €119 billion a year, the deal’s most divisive inclusion threatens to derail the whole process.

That flashpoint is the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS), which gives foreign investors, like multinational firms, the right to sue governments for law changes that hurt their businesses.

Similar measures have already been used by Philip Morris to fight Australia’s plain-packaging measures because of a treaty between the antipodean country and Hong Kong.

Charity welcomes tobacco measures Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Earlier this year, Ireland became only the second nation to pass plain-packaging laws in the face of fierce lobbying from Big Tobacco firms, which have already threatened legal action over the rules.

Meanwhile in Canada, where a free-trade agreement has been in place with the US since 1987, recent ISDS claims include court challenges to Quebec’s fracking ban and the country’s moratorium on offshore wind projects at Lake Ontario.

But Hayes said about 3,500 similar agreements had already been negotiated and the EU would make sure corporations couldn’t encroach on decisions relating to things like health and agriculture.

“This is being presented as the big, bad multinationals demanding all kinds of policy U-turns from government – it’s none of that whatsoever,” he said.

What it is is a means … of making sure, if I’m an Irish business, that in that state my investment is secure.”

‘Bizarre and disappointing’

Sinn Féin has been among the most-vocal opponents to major parts of the plans and one of its MEPs, Matt Carthy, said almost $5 billion in public money had been paid out to investor companies in the 45 cases lodged through similar mechanisms so far.

Local council and European elections Source: Niall Carson

He said the party was looking for amendments that would completely reject an ISDS clause being part of the deal.

Considering that Ireland has never needed to include ISDS in any bi-lateral trade agreement, despite our open economy and the positive trading relationship we already enjoy with the US, the position of the government is bizarre and disappointing,” he said.

 

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly yesterday said the TTIP could create up to 2 million jobs across Europe.

Hopefully we can come to an agreement, which in the overall context would be a huge advantage to Europe, a huge advantage to the United States, but above all a winner for consumers and particularly those who are looking for jobs,” he said.

Business groups in Ireland have also been keen to get behind the plan. Enterprise Ireland’s Kevin Sherry recently told an Oireachtas committee the state agency believed the free-trade deal would offer “substantial opportunities” for Irish companies.

- With reporting from Rónán Duffy

First published 6.01am

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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