Amy Lockwood, of campaign group 38 Degrees, explains why we should worry about a deal between Europe and the United States that politicians are voting on

A FOUR letter acronym has never been so controversial. TTIP - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - is a dangerous trade deal being negotiated in secret between the European Union and the US. And thousands of people in the North-East are among those expressing concern about it.

TTIP isn’t really about trade, however. It’s about corporate power. It’s cloaked in secrecy - but from the leaks we’ve seen it’s going to hand more power to corporations and take away the protections and rights of ordinary people. It’s unheard of for such a complex trade deal to get so many people talking and that just goes to show just how bad TTIP is. The more people hear about this deal, the less they like it. So far organisations across the EU have collected more than two million signatures from people who are opposed to it.

These two million people include 12,600 members of campaign group 38 Degrees who live in the North-East. Recently, these 38 Degrees members have been calling, emailing and tweeting our MEPs - our politicians in Europe - to get them to oppose the deal. All across the UK, hundreds of thousands of people have called on their MEPs to stop TTIP.

So why has TTIP caused such a backlash? For a start, the fact that the deal is being cooked up behind closed doors shows just how undemocratic it is. That’s not the way a deal affecting billions of people should be worked out. But one of the worst elements of TTIP is that it could give corporations the power to sue governments if they pass laws which could dent their profits. This has already happened in other parts of the world. A tobacco company sued the Australian Government for bringing in plain packaging and they sued the Government in Uruguay for increasing the size of warnings on cigarette packets. With plain packaged cigarettes on the horizon in the UK, this trade deal could give giant tobacco corporations the right to act the same way here.

Another scary aspect to the deal would be speeding up the sell-off of our public services like the NHS. One of the main effects of TTIP would be to open up Europe’s public health services to US companies. That means giving them the right to take on NHS contracts. And experience shows us that when the line is blurred between patient care and profit, things get dangerous. Politicians have been quick to rubbish claims about the NHS being on the table for TTIP - but won’t show us the proof.

Being against TTIP doesn’t mean you’re against free trade. That’s because this deal isn’t really about free trade - instead, it seems to be about shifting the power between corporations and democracy for good. Nobody would argue against making trade between countries easier. The real problem with this deal is that it’s shoehorning corporate courts into our democracy.

And anyway the economic benefits of TTIP are actually a bit more uncertain than have been made out. You would expect big business to exaggerate the benefits of this deal and while they might sound good, right now they’re hypothetical. Those benefits come at the price of real damage to the protection that we enjoy as shoppers and as workers. Some experts have said that TTIP could actually cost a million jobs.

As things stand MEPs only have a handful of chances left to influence the contents of the deal. One of those moments should have happened on June 10 when all our MEPs could have voted on various parts of the deal, including the three MEPs representing the North-East. But after hundreds of amendments were tabled, the European Parliament cancelled the vote. The power of campaigning has turned a trade deal into a toxic issue that can’t even reach a vote.

But it’s not over yet. A smaller group of MEPs - including one from the North-East - are part of a special committee who have gone away to slim down these hundreds of amendments into a format in which they can be voted on. That means our job is far from done. Together, we need to keep up the pressure. Our message is clear: we want our public services protected and our democracy kept intact. The more people who join the 12,600 in the North East already fighting TTIP, the sooner we’ll win.

Anyone interested in signing the petition should go to the website address