Transatlantic trade deal offers EU and US ‘one last chance’

UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says TTIP deal will not lead to the privatisation of national health systems

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg during a Q&A session at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference at the ACC Liverpool. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg during a Q&A session at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference at the ACC Liverpool. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

 

A transatlantic trade deal between the European Union and the United States will not lead to the privatisation of national publicly-controlled health systems, the UK’s deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has declared.

Speaking in Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, the Liberal Democrat leader’s speech to the final gathering of his party before the general election in May was picketed by protestors claiming that the trade deal will destroy the National Health Service.

However, Mr Clegg was defiant, saying that there “is absolutely nothing” in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that “could ever force a British government to out-source, or privatise our NHS”.

He warned his party delegates that the TTIP deal offers the European Union and the United States one last chance to set the rules of international trade for decades to come.

“If I think about the world in which my kids will grow up - they are 13, 10 and six right now - I’d rather that they don’t necessarily live in a Britain where all of the standards, all of the technical and trade standards, where all the rules that we work by are all set in Beijing or in Latin America.

“I’d rather like to think the Old World - on either side of the Atlantic - can get together and use our clout to set some of the rules of the game ourselves,” he told the party’s spring conference.

“Power is shifting dramatically from the West to the East. If we are not careful our concerns about some of the details about TTIP - in my view misplaced concerns - might unwittingly mean that we don’t enter into that agreement.

“Before you know it in 20, 30, or 40 years all the rules - never mind Brussels or Washington - will be set by people who are not malign, but over whom we have no influence whatsoever,” he went on.

Supporters of the trade deal say it will add hundreds of billions to international trade, but critics complain that it offers too much to multinational companies and will block governments from regulating markets in the public good.

Negotiations were due to end last year, but both sides failed to reach a deal, while the drift in public mood in the European Union is seen by some as evidence that an agreement will become ever harder to reach.

Mr Clegg acknowledged the concerns: “Globalisation generally has brought, understandably, a lot of unease: it unsettles, it creates huge churn and displacement. I understand that.

“But, ironically, turning our backs on agreements like this makes us more vulnerable, rather than less to the forces of globalisation over which we will have no control,” he told the Liverpool gathering.