Good news! The US-UK trade deal is on hold

Good news! The US-UK trade deal is on hold

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By: Jean Blaylock
Date: 5 March 2021
Campaigns: Trade

We’ve got some good news. The US has kicked the US-UK trade deal into the long grass.

Throughout last year Donald Trump and Boris Johnson wanted to do this high risk deal in a hurry, but public pressure from activists stopped them from being able to hustle it through before the US election.

Since then we’ve been waiting to hear if the Biden administration would pick up where Trump left off or not – but last week they said that they won’t. Instead, the deal has been put on hold.

Campaigning works

This news is a sign that our campaigning has finally paid dividends. We’ve been raising concerns about the planned deal over the last few years, and we all really stepped up a gear last year as formal negotiations began.

After the first round of negotiations, leaks emerged that the UK negotiators were offering to sacrifice key food standards in order to secure a quick deal – despite manifesto promises. The public outcry was immense, and many Global Justice Now supporters were part of that, contacting MPs and speaking out. Within days ministers were forced to back down. And from that point on the campaign ballooned and we didn’t let up.

We did everything we could to pull the negotiations into the light of day, to spread the word and pressure our MPs. Groups across the country held webinars, held socially distanced protests when that was possible, and took action from our homes. All across the country we came together in the autumn for a day of action.

We made sure that the things people value – the NHS, high standards, workers rights’, digital rights – were front and centre whenever the US deal was talked about. That made it impossible for a deal to be rushed through before the US election.

Is it really over?

We’re not complacent now that Biden is president. The drivers of the US trade deal are corporate – big pharma, big agriculture, big tech – and that doesn’t change much whoever is the president. However in the short term Biden has said that he won’t sign new trade deals until he has focused on domestic issues. And last week his incoming lead on trade, Katherine Tai, said the world has changed since the US deal was first proposed, and she wants to revisit the objectives and review everything before going any further.

There’s no formal announcement that negotiations are on hold. There never is when trade deals grind to a halt. But we’re calling it: they’re off for now.

We won’t take our eyes off the ball, and we’ll be watching to see if things change. But for now, we have managed to avert a toxic trade deal that could have done a lot of damage. And by spreading the word on that deal, we’ve helped more people understand the risks that many modern trade deals pose.

What now?

Unfortunately, the UK government’s toxic trade agenda doesn’t end with the US trade deal. Over the coming months, as the UK prepares to host the UN climate conference at the end of the year, we want to highlight the risk so-called ‘corporate courts’ pose for climate. Formally known as investor-state dispute settlement or ISDS, these are written into many trade and investment deals and allow corporations to sue governments outside of national legal systems.

Including corporate courts in new trade deals that the UK is trying to do could set them in stone for the future – like in the trade deal with Canada and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Meanwhile existing bad corporate court deals, like the Energy Charter Treaty, are rearing their heads.

But for now, let’s celebrate everything we’ve done so far to stop the toxic US trade deal in its tracks.

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Image: Katherine Tai at her confirmation hearing last week. Credit: C-SPAN