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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

February 25, 2014

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

I congratulate John Healey on securing this debate.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, politicians the world over were at great pains to avoid the policy mistakes that followed the banking collapse of the 1930s. Conventional Keynesian pump-priming was continually invoked as the means of preventing a recession from turning into a depression. Depressingly, rather less interest seemed to be given to the equally important lessons that the 1929 to 1933 era taught us about protectionism. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which raised tariffs drastically on goods that were imported into the United States in a bid to protect American jobs from foreign competition. That Act sparked a domino effect among America’s trading partners, who predictably imposed similar measures to protect their own economies. The result, as we all know, was a terrific slump in world trade that devastated economic growth and caused unemployment to soar. Only the ensuing second world war helped to get the global economy on its feet again.

In 2010, as growth remained elusive, I wrote and spoke in this House of my deep concern that we might see a new wave of protectionist measures being introduced by politicians who were under pressure to protect domestic markets. The House might recall the defensive, almost nationalistic tone of the debate as Kraft’s hostile takeover of Cadbury was going through, particularly from the Opposition Benches. I called at that time for political leadership to make the case strongly for the massive benefits of free trade and to break down the remaining barriers.

It is in that context that I am heartened, four years on, by the enthusiasm with which the transatlantic trade and investment partnership has been embraced by policy makers

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite all the hassle Kraft got, its £70 million commitment to Cadbury and Bournville is another example of the great benefits that inward investment can bring to our country?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

Very much so. I suspect that my hon. Friend knows more about the chocolate industry than I, particularly as he is a Yorkshire MP.

The enthusiasm that I mentioned has been seen predominantly on this side of the Atlantic. The main aims of the partnership, on which formal negotiations began last July, are to increase trade and investment between the US and the EU by reducing tariffs, particularly on agricultural products; to align regulations and standards; to improve the protection for overseas investors; and to increase access to services and government procurement markets for foreign providers.

There is no doubt that the prize is enormous and that the TTIP is highly ambitious. The US is and will remain the EU’s most important trading partner, with some $2.7 billion of trade daily in goods and services.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has commissioned a cost and impact assessment on the agreement. That research states that

“an EU-US investment treaty would impose costs on the UK to the extent that it prevents the UK government from regulating in the public interest.”

Why is the hon. Gentleman so gung-ho about such an agreement when the Government’s own impact assessment states that the investor state part of it will cause problems for us?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

I look forward to the Minister destroying one or two of those arguments. I suspect that the hon. Lady has provided a selective reading of the BIS impact assessment.

Much of the media coverage of the TTIP has focused on the trade of manufactured goods. Rather less attention has been given to a sphere of commerce in which the UK economy excels globally: financial and professional services. I represent the City of London, which is a hub not only for banking, but for a range of related service businesses such as accountancy, insurance, consultancy, the law and pensions management. To put into perspective the importance of those industries to the UK, in 2012, the financial and associated professional services sector employed some 7% of the UK work force, produced some 13% of total economic output, contributed £65 billion in tax and generated a trade surplus of £55 billion.

The City of London is strongly supportive of the TTIP, but has been consistent in its belief that no industry should be excluded from the partnership’s scope, including financial and professional services. There would be benefits not only through boosted trade, but through a reduction in the potential for the kind of regulatory arbitrage that currently means that differences in the implementation of financial standards are exploited, thereby putting financial stability at risk. Some of the regulatory differences are unavoidable because of the variations in EU and US market structures and cultures. Others cannot be justified on prudential grounds.

As was demonstrated so painfully in 2008, we tend to get regulatory co-operation only in times of severe crisis, when deals are brokered at the eleventh hour to avoid market fracture. If financial services were within the TTIP’s scope, I believe that we could design a stable, long-term framework for the discussion and co-ordination of regulatory issues long before we hit the next crisis point. The other great prize is that we could create a larger, more efficient market place for EU and US financial institutions, thereby solidifying their leading role in global financial regulation—a market that will get much bigger in Asia as the emerging economies of China, India and the like strengthen.

It is for those reasons that the EU has been lobbying hard for such services to be included in the TTIP negotiations. However, there is still stiff opposition from the US Treasury, which suggests that the TTIP is primarily a trade pact, not a forum for regulatory co-operation. The fear seems to be that the US might lose its sovereignty over regulation. It must be made clear that that is not what the EU proposes. Nobody wants to undermine existing regulations, even the Dodd-Frank Act. Co-ordination is quite different from capitulation. We need sustained, high-level political engagement to bring financial services within the TTIP’s remit.

I am concerned that there is insufficient public awareness of the TTIP, including what is at stake, what the challenges and problems are—I accept what Caroline Lucas says—and what the potential benefits are. Quite understandably, given the systematic undermining of the world’s political and economic elite in recent years, which has been referred to, there is a wave of distrust at the tenor of the negotiations that are under way. There is a common perception that side deals are being brokered to benefit global corporations, posing a risk to national sovereignty that might see our independent courts being made subservient to outside arbitration. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified his position on those arguments this afternoon. I encourage the Government to run an even more visible campaign on the TTIP that allows us all to have an open, honest discussion about its potential benefits and drawbacks.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just the UK Government that should be carrying out that publicity, but the EU? Instead of focusing on Eurobarometer and the other daft publicity ideas that it has, the EU should be spending its money on promoting the benefits of this agreement to its population.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

I accept that, but realistically we in the UK probably also need our Government to make clear some of the benefits of trade—some of us in the Conservative party are convinced that the best future lies within the European Union, hopefully with a certain amount of reform going on as well. None the less, it is important that our Government make that strong case.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth, Labour)

Is the hon. Gentleman able to comment on earlier remarks by my right hon. Friend John Healeyabout exempting the NHS from the TTIP? Currently it is not exempt, although I have asked several questions of the Government to ensure that it is.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will not comment on that but will leave it to the Minister. I wanted to speak about financial services, but I appreciate that time is tight.

David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)

Briefly, my hon. Friend mentions the need for an EU-US regulatory framework for financial services, which I have not heard of before. How does he square that with what, for example, the Basel agreements try to do globally at the moment? Is that really the way forward?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

I say simply to my hon. Friend that given the potential huge benefits of the TTIP, it seems odd that important industries such as the financial and professional services are not included in it. Clearly we are in a state of flux about a lot of international and national regulation of financial services, but it seems that this would be a good place for us to make a robust case for open markets, particularly in an industry that will clearly develop in many other parts of the globe beyond the EU and US.

It is important that those who are proposing the TTIP show just what it can add to people’s lives in terms of trading opportunities, jobs and a better variety of consumer products. If there is a perception that the deal is being engineered in an opaque way, it is likely to fall apart and we shall lose an enormous opportunity. Crucially, the United States must do the same. In that nation, protectionist sentiment and economic nationalism are now fast replacing the wave of enthusiasm on which the TTIP initially rode.

Needless to say, progress in this field of influence will resonate strongly in the UK Government’s negotiations for reforms within the European Union. It was, of course, the wily German statesman, Bismarck, who observed that

“politics is the art of the possible.”

Although I believe it is sensible that the UK Government do not raise excessive expectations as to what might be achieved in negotiations with our EU fellow members, it is at least worth observing that in the aftermath of last autumn’s EU budget settlement there appears to be a new mood towards some level of reform. One hopes that some of the UK’s traditional European allies such as Poland, Finland and the Czech Republic, will not feel encumbered by a resurgent Russia from making the case for some fundamental institutional reform in the EU. Time will tell, I think.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words. This debate on the TTIP shows once again that the UK Government’s goal should be that we remain the most outward looking trading nation. We have every reason to have been proud of that in centuries gone by, and hopefully we will be in the years and decades to come.