RELAXING trade restrictions between the US and the EU via the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would have far-reaching benefits for the Scottish economy, allowing exports to flourish by removing prohibitive costs.

 

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That is according to organisations including the Scottish North American Business Council (SNABC) and a Borders-based textile firm, who are due to put forward their thoughts on the matter at the Scottish Parliament today.

TTIP is currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States, and looks to lift trade barriers across various economic sectors to facilitate the trade of goods and services between the two markets.

The Parliament's European and External Relations Committee (EERC) is to meet today to discuss the topic with business organisations and individual businesses, with witnesses including Allan Hogarth, executive director of the SNABC and representative for the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Scotland at the Scottish Parliamentary enquiry.

He said that as part of the British-American Business Council, the SNABC has strongly supported the partnership, and expects it to "significantly benefit companies on both sides of the Atlantic, providing a significant boost to both jobs and growth, benefiting Scottish businesses, workers and consumers alike".

Mr Hogarth added that the US remains the largest single export market for Scottish goods and services, with an estimated £3.5 billion of exports, accounting for over 12 per cent of all international exports from Scotland.

"Just imagine what 'Scotland plc' could achieve if we managed to achieve a successful TTIP trade agreement," he said, also noting that in a survey of more than 1,000 IoD members, 90 per cent said they backed the proposed partnership.

As for the impact on individual businesses, Hawick Knitwear, which describes itself as the UK's largest knitwear manufacturer by production terms, believes TTIP would considerably boost its US exports with a highly beneficial knock-on effect.

Its managing director Benny Hartop explained that it currently exports cashmere to US retail giant Brooks Brothers, with the buyer picking up the bill for the import tax of 4 per cent.

However, while 70 per cent of the Scottish firm's production relates to lambswool products, it does not export these to the US as they are subject to a 16 per cent import tax.

Mr Hartop said the current levy on wool is "insurmountable" and prevents his business from exporting to a market where consumers really "buy into" the heritage of the firm's products, with the company using pure Scottish water in the manufacturing of its jumpers.

TTIP going ahead could open up a significant new market for the firm, he said, adding that it is looking not just to expand its exports to Brooks Brothers but also develop its own private label in the US, and hoping that as part of the TTIP negotiations that the the import tariffs affecting his firm will be cut to zero.

However, he said 4 per cent would be a satisfactory level, and added that cutting import taxation would benefit not just his own company's revenues but his whole supply chain, and boost employment in the Borders.

All in all, it would "make for a fairer playing field and create a win-win-win situation," he said.

However, the partnership has received some opposition, with fears that benefits would be "minimal" and could lead to the privatisation of the NHS as well as threaten jobs.

Mr Hogarth however feels the proposed partnership is beneficial for Scotland, stating: "We see a TTIP-enabled Europe as one much more attractive to companies from both sides of the Atlantic interested in mutual trade and investment."

He added: "While there are plenty of encouraging success stories out there, many companies still face huge obstacles when doing business with the US. The smaller you are, the more these get in the way."

Additionally, he said that should TTIP go ahead, it could lead to other regions relaxing their own tariffs and enabling Scottish exports to grow, for example in the whisky market.

Following today's meeting, discussions are set to take place early next year with the European Commission, with the EERC to then "consider its next steps in relation to the issues raised".