[Ip-health] FT: EU pledges to protect NHS in US trade talks

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jul 11 01:53:17 PDT 2014


July 10, 2014 7:46 pm
EU pledges to protect NHS in US trade talks

By Shawn Donnan, World Trade Editor

Britain’s National Health Service
<http://www.ft.com/topics/organisations/NHS> and other European public
health programmes are set to be carved out of a proposed transatlantic
trade deal to protect them from legal challenges by US corporations,
according to the EU’s top negotiator.

The move is intended to address criticism from opponents of the
proposed Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership
or TTIP, who have argued that under the proposed deal the NHS’s public
status could be threatened. Critics have also raised the possibility of US
pharmaceutical and healthcare companies
<http://www.ft.com/companies/pharmaceuticals> using special arbitration
panels to sue the British government over decisions related to the NHS.

But in a private letter sent to British parliamentarians this week and
obtained by the Financial Times, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief
negotiator, said Brussels was determined to protect publicly funded health
services in Europe from any potential challenges.

“There is no reason to fear either for the NHS as it stands today, or for
changes to the NHS in future, as a result of TTIP,” he wrote in the July 8
letter addressed to John Healey, the Labour MP who chairs the All-Party
Parliamentary Group on TTIP.

The EU intended to make sure that any trade deal struck with the US would
allow the “full policy space” for publicly funded health services such as
hospitals “by not including them in the scope of commitments”, he wrote.

“This policy space means that member states do not need to provide access
to their markets for foreign companies and, even if they do give access,
they can discriminate between foreign companies and EU/domestic ones,” Mr
Garcia Bercero added.

Any decisions regarding the NHS or moves to terminate contracts with US
suppliers would also be safe from challenges under a special dispute
resolution system meant to protect foreign investors, the negotiator said.

A proposed investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, mechanism has been
one of the main focus points for critics of the EU-US deal, and a public
consultation by the European Commission has already drawn more than 100,000
submissions from across Europe. Critics charge that such a mechanism, which
is backed by business and has been a feature of investment treaties for
decades, would open the door for EU governments and their laws to be
challenged by US companies before special panels.

But in his letter Mr Garcia Bercero said there was no evidence to show that
would be the case. The UK’s 94 existing bilateral investment treaties, the
vast majority of which contain similar dispute settlement provisions, had
not affected government decisions over the past two decades.

“We can already state with confidence that any ISDS provisions in TTIP
could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the
NHS,” he wrote.

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