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Post-Brexit Threat: US-UK Trade Deal

Post-Brexit Threat: US-UK Trade Deal

The message is clear: “The minute the U.K. is out, America is in,” said the US Vice President, Mike Pence, in his speech in London last month. This was music to Boris Johnson’s ears as his desperation to secure a US trade deal in post-Brexit Britain becomes almost tangible. But striking a trade deal with Trump poses wide-ranging threats - to our NHS, the food on our tables, farming standards and our ability to tackle climate breakdown.

Trump and the US agribusiness lobby have long wanted to dismantle our food and farming standards to enable American products to enter our markets. For big business, these standards are barriers that stop the free flow of trade. For the rest of us, they protect consumers, producers and animal welfare. A trade deal with the US could radically change our food and farming system –for the worse. It would force the UK to tear up a whole range of regulations on pesticide, antibiotic and hormone use in farming as well as open up the UK market to food produced using genetic engineering and chlorine washes for meat which is used to mask low animal welfare standards. UK farmers would have to lower their standards to compete and small producers would struggle even more than they already are. 

We would be essentially importing an even more intensive, fossil fuel-based agriculture from the US, which would undermine our efforts to tackle climate change. Furthermore, a trade deal could introduce rules to make it harder to discriminate between energy sources which would encourage increased use of the dirtiest fossil fuels. Meanwhile, clauses around regulatory cooperation would give the power to big business to shape regulations and challenge any ‘onerous’ or ‘unnecessary’ environmental policies. 

Our NHS is also at risk from a trade deal. Regardless of the rhetoric on whether the NHS is on the table or not, unless the NHS is explicitly excluded from the trade deal, existing levels of privatisation within the NHS could be locked-in and future governments could be prevented from rolling back deregulation and privatisation. This undermines our democracy as future governments would be shackled by the binding provisions of a US trade deal.

Corporate America is pushing higher drug prices on the NHS. Trump has claimed that the high drug prices that patients are facing in the US are because of ‘freeloading’ by other countries’ socialised health services, rather than profit-hungry big pharma. 

The US negotiating objectives could see an attack on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which assesses the clinical and cost-effectiveness of new medicines for the NHS and attempts to keep prices paid for by the public under control. Even the patient data that the NHS holds is being targeted. NHS patient records are a treasure chest of data that US technology companies could extract onto US servers, mine it with secretive algorithms, develop medical tools and technologies to then sell back to the NHS. It’s not privatisation as we traditionally think of it, but it is an appropriation of NHS assets. 

In our increasingly digitised economy, ‘data is the new oil’ and big tech is calling for the US-UK trade deal to prevent rules that inhibit data flows, maintain secrecy around their source codes and algorithms, and allow for unrestricted access to our markets. With tech giants and platforms like Amazon, Google and Facebook becoming ever more pervasive and influential, it’s an agenda that concentrates even more power over oureconomy into the hands of a small number of US tech firms. 

We know what Trump wants, the whole Corporate-America First agenda is laid out in the US negotiating objectives, and yet, we have very little idea what the UK’s government negotiating points are. Our MPs have virtually no say over trade deals and no powers to amend, vote for or reject them. Instead, the government can conduct trade negotiations and sign trade deals in complete secrecy. MPs are reduced to mere spectators as the government signs binding treaties that affect so many aspects of our lives. And so, when Vice President Mike Pence declares the US is ready for a trade deal the moment Brexit happens, we also need to be ready to mobilise to call for increased trade democracy and defend the safeguards that Corporate America is ready and waiting to tear apart.

By Heidi Chow, Senior Campaigner at Global Justice Now.

PHOTO: Flickr: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead