The ability of our state to pass public health laws could be undermined by TTIP
Date: 
July 16, 2015

EU- US trade deal likely to affect Ireland's ability to pass public health laws

We believe that public health legislation in Ireland is under serious threat unless a planned trade agreement between the European Union and the United States is significantly altered. 
 
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a planned trade agreement currently being negotiated by officials from the United States and the EU, which aims to reduce regulation and stimulate economic growth.

It could allow multinational companies to sue countries for introducing public health policies that will reduce the cancer rate and save lives but hit the commercial bottom line.

It is through similar trade agreements that Australia, the first country to introduce plain packaging of tobacco, is being sued by tobacco companies. 

“Ireland has become a global leader in anti-tobacco initiatives for example,” said Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy & Communications.  “This has happened in the face of serious and costly opposition by global tobacco companies. Right now, our plain packaging of tobacco laws are being challenged in the domestic courts by tobacco companies. TTIP could allow such a case to be taken at a three-person investor court sitting in Washington DC which would not have an appeal mechanism and would be massively expensive for the State to defend.”
 
The Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, allows companies to bypass the domestic courts system and sue countries for introducing polices they believe would be damaging to their business. Tobacco companies have been using ISDS to block, amend and delay laws which are being introduced around the world designed to reduce the harm from smoking. 
 
This has created a ‘regulatory chill’.  New Zealand has stalled their introduction of plain packaging of tobacco and Uruguay has been sued by the tobacco industry for damages worth US$2 billion – or 3.6% of its entire GDP.
 
The European Union has been split on ISDS and last week, the European Parliament passed a ‘compromise text’ on TTIP which promised ‘to replace the ISDS-system with a new system […] where private interests cannot undermine public policy objectives’. However it still allows for the introduction of some form of investor-state dispute plan. 
 
“The Irish Cancer Society believes that TTIP can exist without any form of ISDS system,” said Ms O’Meara. “Countries such as South Africa are actively deleting their agreements that contain ISDS and Australia has decided not to include it in negotiations on some future trade agreements.”
 
The Irish Cancer Society has commissioned ‘TTIP, ISDS and the implications for Irish public health policy’ because the debate on TTIP in Ireland has so far centred on the potential economic benefit.  This report has been written by Dr Joshua Curtis of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Dr John Reynolds of Maynooth University – both experts in human rights and trade policy. It concludes that the predicted economic gains are too small to justify the social risks and particularly, the risks to our public health which would result from ISDS in TTIP. 
 
“Ireland receives seven times the EU average Foreign Direct Investment from the United States and this shows quite clearly that the country doesn’t need this type of trade agreement,” said Ms O’Meara. “Ireland has never had a claim against it under investor protection, so if this is provided for in TTIP, there will be a massive exposure to Irish laws and in particular in the area of public health.” 
 
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, has recently argued that investment treaties “may affect State’s power to introduce health laws in the public interest”.  Small countries are particularly vulnerable. Slovakia has faced three claims from foreign investors impacted by the government’s decision to amend its policy on health insurance and Uruguay has had to rely on philanthropic support from Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates to defend itself from the tobacco industry.  
 
“Governments should be allowed to freely develop and implement policy according to the changing health needs of the population,” said Dr Joshua Curtis of LSE. “Health policy across the EU is primarily seen as driven by issues in society rather than commercial concerns.” 
 
“There is a lack of evidence supporting the link between trade agreements like TTIP and economic growth,” said Dr John Reynolds of Maynooth University. “Far from raising standards on health and social protection, these agreements actually reduce standards to the lowest common denominator and restrict the right of the Government to regulate in the public interest.”
 
The Irish Cancer Society is concerned about the unwavering support for ISDS from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and in light of this report and are calling on the Government to reassess its support for an investor dispute mechanism in TTIP. 
 
“Ireland will be massively vulnerable to disputes from global companies if this goes through,” said Ms O’Meara. “Under TTIP we would be subjected to a financial risk from future investor claims that is 26 times higher than Germany and 126 times higher than Italy. We will go from a situation of low exposure to a situation where all policy could be disputed by corporations. 
 
“Multinational companies are ruthless in this regard as we have seen with plain packaging. 
 
“In accepting TTIP without acknowledging the potential risks to public health policy, Ireland is exposing itself to unjustifiable risk,” she concluded. 
 

Read the executive summary or full report of 'TTIP, ISDS and the implications for Irish public health policy’