Manchester City Council (MCC) decided to reject a proposal for a TTIP/CETA Free Zone, despite the fact these trade deals could seriously undermine the additional powers that the region is pushing for under devolution. MCC declared they would revisit this issue if it re-emerged on the global stage, which seems pretty contradictory given that CETA is due to be voted on imminently.

Campaign for TTIP/CETA free zones

The Council were forced to discuss the issue on the 10 November, after a local government petition led by the Stop TTIP MCR campaign secured 1,400 signatures. The campaigners have spent the last three years ensuring that the people of Manchester are aware of the threat that trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) pose to our public services and democracy.

What’s become clear from this campaign is that once people hear about these trade deals they are appalled by the secretive negotiations and frustrated by them being presented as apolitical decisions they need not be consulted on. You can watch Stop TTIP MCR campaign videos  to sense the strength of feeling expressed by the campaigners.

The majority of the case presented to MCC by the campaigners focused on CETA. This trade deal, between the EU and Canada, will be voted on in the European parliament in December or January, with the potential to affect the UK for the next 20 years. This is 20 years regardless of whether we stay in the EU or leave.

Councillor John Flanagan, political lead for this area, said they did not want to “waste much time in this committee as history has overtaken us”. He focused solely on the TTIP negotiations and dismissed the threat posed by other looming trade deals such as CETA and TiSA.

CETA will affect local and regional council decisions

Beyond the known concerns about these trade deals, MCC has reason to be particularly worried about this deal. Greater Manchester is currently pushing for greater powers in health care and increased purchasing powers through the joint commissioning of projects, via the Devo Manc deal. CETA is pulling in the opposite direction.

CETA will take away local government ability to make democratic decisions around our health care due to the threat posed by the Investment Court System, and place limits on local government procurement rules. Instead of being able to support local small businesses or require social value assurances in purchasing decisions, Manchester would have to open up to competition from large companies from across the world, seriously undermining the value of these kinds of initiatives.

The Council stated that in principle they supported the petition, noting that the Council’s powers in local procurement were of the utmost importance. But they were unwilling to take any action to oppose CETA.

It seemed as though the decision about how the committee was going to vote had already been taken, with not a single word about the imminent threat posed by CETA being listened to. They had decided to only talk about TTIP and were not willing to comment on anything beyond that.

Is this what representative democracy is supposed to look like? Backroom decision making, where the views of regular citizens are not given the time that they deserve?

The fight continues

The campaign to stop these trade deals is far from over in Manchester. Despite Manchester’s Labour dominated council shirking its responsibility, we know that at other levels of the Labour party they are listening. Those concerned about the negative effects of trade deals are looking to us for information to enable an alternative vision of trade. The Manchester-based campaigners will be stepping up their efforts by encouraging everybody to email their MEP to make their feelings known, alongside the millions of protesters across Europe who share our fears. People power cannot and will not be ignored.


Laura Williams – Activism officer (Manchester) for Global Justice Now

A version of this article was first published, 12 November 2016, in Global Justice Now

Further Information

Featured image via Flickr

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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.

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  1. Since this was written, it’s become known MEPs will get a vote on CETA on Weds. 23rd. Nov. You can email them asking them to challenge transnational power by refering the Investor Courts System to the European Court of Justice. See

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