Clash of the manifestos: TTIP and the NHS

Published: 29th Apr 2015

"We will ensure the NHS is protected from the TTIP treaty"—Labour Manifesto

"After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states' rights to provide public services directly and not open them up to competition are explicitly enshrined in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)"—Liberal Democrat Manifesto

The differences between the parties here are on whether it's currently guaranteed that public services won't be affected by a commercial treaty being negotiated between the EU and the USA.

The treaty in question, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is aimed at increasing trade between the EU and US, while allowing companies from both sides of the Atlantic access to the other's markets.

The ConservativesLabour and the Liberal Democrats broadly support these elements of the agreement. But whereas the Coalition parties' concerns about the NHS being affected appear to have been alleviated by EU reassurances, Labour's manifesto strikes a more cautious note.

Market access means that any remaining state monopolies must be abolished. These include public services that are provided by the state or by a limited number of suppliers—like the NHS. If a country doesn't want to open its public services to wider competition, it must explicitly exempt those services in any trade agreement.

The European Commission is aware of these concerns, and has consistently given the reassurances the Liberal Democrats point to, specifically referring to the NHS in correspondence with British politicians.

It says that a draft treaty with Canada would be a model for TTIP.

That deal says that EU countries reserve the right to "adopt or maintain" measures excluding foreign companies from "health services which receive public funding or State support in any form and are therefore not considered to be privately funded".

But we'll only be able to talk of a safeguard when the TTIP is actually drafted and ratified, with similar wording included (the BBC has reported that a leaked draft does contain the relevant clause). Even if the treaty is adopted with the relevant exclusion, we can't be sure how an international tribunal might rule if it was challenged there—this form of wording is quite new.

That lingering uncertainty might explain Labour's reservations, as expressed in its manifesto.

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