Thursday, 8 February 2018

What would a US/UK Trade Deal Look Like?

A much vaunted, by Brexiteers anyway, US/UK trade deal, once we have left the European Union (EU) is homing into view. The prime minister, Theresa May, refused to rule out including the NHS in any future deal with the US. The Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, put this question to May in Parliament on Wednesday:

“The prime minister knows that one of the key objectives of American trade negotiators in any future deal after Brexit is to secure access for American companies to business in the NHS,” he said. “Can she give an absolute guarantee that in those negotiations the NHS will be excluded from their scope? And can she confirm that in her conversations with President Trump she’s made it absolutely clear to him that the NHS is not for sale?”

May fell back on her standard line of ‘getting the best deal for Britain,’ vacuous nonsense that we have come to expect from her. Her press secretary also later refused to answer the question when journalists pressed him on it, saying it is very much a hypothetical question. Well, it is not hypothetical because preliminary talks have already begun between officials of the US and UK governments.

The government’s own assessments calculate that a trade deal with the US would add only 0.2% to UK GDP, but has the potential to impact heavily on the UK’s public sector generally. As well as our current environmental standards for food, and the ability to honour our commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

But first, let us look at the impact on the NHS and health provision generally. In 2017 the UK government spent almost £150 billion on public health provision. This is money which is largely off limits for private companies, although they do take some of it already, through Public Finance Initiatives.

The US, when trying to negotiate the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), attempted to include the British NHS (and other EU nation’s health services) into the deal. Although President Trump has now pulled out of some these deals, it is a racing certainty that any new trade deals with US, will include this sector.

You can see why they would want to include it, as the UK is a relatively small economy compared to the US, which has an economy six times the size of the UK. There is not really anything else as valuable that we can offer to the US in a trade deal.

The US is also far less dependent on a trade deal with the UK, than the UK is for one with the US. At the moment, US exports to the UK account for only 3% of total exports, whereas the US accounts for 13% of UK exports. The US has a huge internal market too, which is where most of their trade comes from.

So, what kind of deal can be expected? According to Global Justice Now it is likely to include:

Corporate courts’ that allow foreign corporations to sue governments outside of the national legal system to challenge things like environmental protection or public health policy.

Locking in privatisation of public services, including of the NHS.

Undermining our climate change commitments.

In particular the type of trade deal that the US would be looking for with the UK would want to ensure things like ‘Standstill’ clauses which prevent public services that have already been privatised or opened up to private finance initiatives from ever being brought back into public hands.

Also ‘Ratchet’ clauses which specify that if any further services are privatised, they also cannot afterward, be returned to public ownership. So much for taking back control, more like giving more control to multi-national corporations.

On food and farming the US government has always been clear that our (EU) food and farming regulations, which prevent the sort of high-intensity, high-chemical, low-animal welfare farming common in the US, are a ’trade barrier‘. Any deal will likely look at stripping away regulations on pesticide, antibiotic and hormone use in farming.

On the environment we are likely to see rules, already proposed in other US deals, that make discriminating between different sorts of fuels impossible. In other words, supporting renewable technologies when fossil fuels could do the job could become the basis for a trade dispute, adjudicated on by a trade tribunal, outside of domestic law.

The EU is far from perfect, but compared to the alternatives, it is by far a bettter trade deal than we will get from anywhere else. The Tories are prepared to abandon our environmental protections, and put our public services up for sale. There is no rationale for this other than satisfying the Tories ideological zealotry to de-regulate employment and environmental protections and open up public services to the corporate vultures. Is this what we really want?  

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