International trade, we’re often told, is the key to international cooperation. But the ‘America First’ economic nationalism of Trump’s USA is allowing the world’s most powerful country to impose its will on weaker ones - and that includes the UK, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Tariffs between the US and Britain are already low and trade levels high, so any deal would be more about ensuring laws and regulations don’t obstruct the free flow of capital. It would be premised on the notion that the privatisation of services – including health – is inherently good and would probably contain ‘lock in’ clauses, so that once a service was privatised, it had to remain so.
As in other deals, there would be a race to the bottom in standards, as socially and environmentally responsible criteria get screened out. So a deal would almost certainly prevent us from meeting our climate commitments.
A recent Global Justice Now report warns of ‘corporate courts’ that could allow “foreign corporations to sue governments for passing regulations that could affect corporate profits, through an international arbitration process that completely bypasses our own national justice system.” These are already in place in many countries – Mexico has been sued over a tax on sugary drinks, Canada over a ban on a suspected neurotoxin in petrol and, famously, Germany over its attempts to phase out nuclear power. Veolia even sued Egypt over the introduction of a minimum wage.
Under these rules, governments must pay their own costs, which run into millions, even if they win. If they lose, they may have to pay much more in compensation to multinationals. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian government has paid US companies more than US$200 million, and is facing claims of over $2.6 billion in new cases.
Get ready to eat chlorinated chicken! The US believes our 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‘ and want them scrapped. Surely there would be a public outcry at much of this. But Parliament, let alone the people, will not be allowed to set the terms for, or monitor the progress of, such a trade negotiation – normal practice, according to the government. MPs may not even be a given a final say on any deal.
Many of these proposals went down in flames three years ago when the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was defeated by popular protest across Europe. Britain alone would be far less well placed to stop such plans to give corporations unprecedented powers over our economy and public policy.
For more information, see Trading with Trump, by Global Justice Now.