ANY economic benefits brought to Scotland by a new free trade agreement must not be at the expense of the right of governments to pass important laws, John Swinney has warned.

In a hard-hitting intervention ahead of a debate in Holyrood on the treaty today the deputy first minister has written to Christina McKelvie, convener of Holyrood’s European and external relations committee. In his letter Swinney said research by the Scottish Government found the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would have a “positive though modest” impact on Scotland’s economy.

However, he stated: “It must be emphasised that the Scottish Government is firmly of the view that any economic benefits must not be at the expense of the NHS or public services, of high food, environmental or other standards or of the right of governments to regulate.”

The controversial treaty is currently being negotiated by the EU and the US and aims to remove trade barriers to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between members of the EU and the United States.

But a huge grassroots campaign across Europe against the deal has sprung up with critics fearing it would give big business too much influence over national governments and would undermine protective regulations over a wide range of areas including workers’ rights, food safety and the environment.One of the most unpopular aspects of the agreement is the establishment of special legal mechanism known as the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) which would allow businesses to take court action against governments with regard to legislation which they believe threatens current or future profits. The mechanism has been set aside while negotiations are pursued on other aspects of the treaty, but it is set to be back on the table at a later stage.

Swinney’s letter also highlighted his concerns over ISDS, saying he was “unconvinced” of the need for the mechanism. He has previously raised fears about the possible impact of TTIP on the NHS and the running of other public bodies – as the agreement could allow global corporations a greater role in delivering services on any aspect of organisations which had been privatised.

Governments could also be challenged legally if they try to renationalise services.The European and external affairs committee have recently published a report on TTIP and recommended the final agreement should include measures to ensure public services are protected.

Liz Murray, head of Scottish campaigns for Global Justice Now, welcomed Swinney’s comments.“We welcome his strongly worded opposition to the inclusion of the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, or anything like it, in TTIP which would undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to legislate in the public interest,” she said.“We are also heartened that the Scottish Government is firmly of the view that TTIP should not result in the lowering of any regulatory standards and that it would like to see the NHS exempted from the trade deal – although all public services are at risk, not just the NHS. 

“Public opposition to TTIP in Scotland is growing fast.  “It is now absolutely vital that... Scottish MPs who arrive in Westminster after the General Election next week reflect this and take a stand against TTIP.”