Comment: We can still save TTIP – but we have to get rid of these secret corporate courts

By Catherine Bearder MEP

This was the day the European parliament was supposed to give its position on negotiations over a controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP. However, due to divisions between MEPs over the controversial investor dispute mechanism, the vote has now been delayed. As calls grow to scrap the trade deal entirely, I believe we need to look at how to iron out its flaws without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

A trade deal with the US has the potential to bring major benefits to the UK economy. Currently the US is the biggest export destination for UK small businesses, with over half of all small exporting firms doing business there. But barriers to trade between the EU and the US, such as tariffs or different standards and regulations, can make it difficult for small companies to expand their businesses across the Atlantic.

Take Penny Seume, a textile designer based in Bristol. Due to slightly different flammability regulations in the EU and US, she currently has to fire-test all her fabrics twice, adding cost and time. The Liberal group in the European Parliament is pushing for a smart EU-US trade deal which will help thousands of small businesses like Penny's, making it easier for them to export by simplifying customs procedures and matching up standards where possible. Overall, it is estimated that such a deal could boost the UK economy by £100 billion over a ten year period.

However, there are valid concerns over some aspects of the trade deal. Many people have contacted me about the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), and I agree with them that ISDS in its current form is seriously flawed. As has been seen in past agreements around the world, secretive tribunals using private arbitration often give too much power to multinational corporations and undermine the democratic process.

At the same time, UK businesses do need some form of protection from arbitrary decisions by foreign governments when they invest overseas, including in the US where legal systems are complex and vary from state to state.  That is why I'll be voting to get rid of the flawed system of ISDS to replace it with a new form of investor protection – one that protects the investments of companies overseas but in a fair and transparent way.

I want to see private arbitration scrapped not only from the ongoing TTIP negotiations, but from all trade deals around the world. Many countries in the world are already turning against ISDS. I believe the EU should lead the way in replacing this flawed system with a public, international investment court, dragging these secretive decisions into the open and ensuring judges are appointed independently.

Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP in the European parliament

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