Secrecy of US-UK trade talks must end, say campaigners

Tuesday, 3 April, 2018
  • First talks since confirmation UK can negotiate trade deals during Brexit transition
  • ‘Everything on the table, but nothing out in the open’

Campaign group Global Justice Now has criticised the lack of transparency over totemic US-UK trade talks, after the UK’s Department for International Trade and the Office of the United States Trade Representative today released a cursory statement on the latest talks, more than two weeks after they took place.
 
The statement, which confirmed that a third meeting of the US-UK trade working group took place on 21-22 March, revealed that a vast range of issues were discussed including industrial and agricultural goods, services, investment, and intellectual property rights. It was the first meeting of the working group since it was announced that no details of the talks would be released for four years after their conclusion.
 
“It seems that everything is on the table, but nothing is out in the open,” said Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, who has given evidence to the UK parliament on trade policy. “Detailed discussions are clearly underway on a possible US-UK trade deal, and they cover food standards, public services, intellectual property rights and more. But what is Liam Fox prepared to give away to Donald Trump? And will he get anything in return? On one of the totemic issues of Brexit, the public are completely in the dark.

“With the Australian government now demanding hormone-fed beef is put on the menu for a trade deal, it is clear that food standards are a particular focus for countries looking to exploit Britain’s need for post-Brexit trade. We are sleepwalking to a future of low standards unless MPs take back control – most importantly by supporting Caroline Lucas’s amendment to the Trade Bill.”
 
The talks were the first of the secretive US-UK working group to take place since the UK and EU reached a preliminary agreement on the terms of the Brexit transition period, including confirming that the UK would be allowed to negotiate and sign trade deals during the transition. The US-UK working group is one of 14 such working groups with 21 countries, details of which the Department for International Trade refuses to make public.
 
Campaigners are calling on MPs to sign an amendment to the government’s Trade Bill, due to return to the House of Commons for its report stage in the spring, giving parliament a greater role in scrutinising UK trade deals after Brexit. As it stands, the UK parliament will have less power to scrutinise such deals after Brexit than the European Parliament and British MPs currently have to scrutinise EU trade deals, making a mockery of the Leave campaign’s pledge to be taking back control.

Notes

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/us-uk-trade-and-investment-working-group-joint-statement
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/arrangement-for-exchanging-information-during-the-uk-us-trade-and-investment-working-group
  3. Australia to demand Britain accepts hormone-treated beef, 2 April 2018, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/australia-to-demand-britain-accepts-hormonetreated-beef-htwf9xxsb
  4. Amendment NC3, tabled by Caroline Lucas MP, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0122/amend/trade_rm_rep_0329.pdf

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia