With trade talks starting, U.S. and UK unions and public interest groups demand a deal that puts people and the planet first in letter to trade ministers
With most of the world focused on stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump and Johnson administrations are moving forward this week with US-UK trade negotiations that civil society groups in both countries worry could privilege corporate profits at the expense of the environment, consumer safety, public health and worker rights.
Today a powerful and diverse array of unions and public interest groups from both sides of the Atlantic sent a unified message that trade negotiations between the United States and United Kingdom must prioritize working families, public health and the environment over corporate profits.
The organisations expressed their concerns that a US-UK Free Trade Agreement could pose risks to the wellbeing of people and the planet. The groups — which include environmental, animal welfare, health, food, farming, labour, digital, development, faith and social justice organizations — called on the governments of both countries to conduct transparent negotiations. They demanded the inclusion of binding climate and labor standards and the exclusion of terms that undermine consumer health and safety, financial, privacy and other public interest safeguards.
A PDF of the letter, with the complete list of signing organisations, is available at:
Quotes from signatories follow.
“The climate crisis demands a wholesale transformation of status quo trade policy. Any trade agreement worth enacting must support — not undermine — action on climate change. It must include binding climate standards, including a requirement for each country to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement, so that corporations cannot shift their climate pollution to countries with lower standards. And it must entirely exclude the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system that corporations have used to challenge climate policies.”
--Ben Beachy, Director of the Sierra Club's Living Economy Program
“Today, high prescription drug prices force people to choose whether to take the medicines they need, to ration, or simply go without needed treatments in order to be able pay for other necessities like food and shelter. The recent coronavirus pandemic has held a magnifying glass to the inequality of our healthcare system. This immoral system is further entrenched by powerful companies that use complicated trade negotiations to lock in current U.S. drug policies and prevent Congress from taking reasonable steps to curb drug price gouging and export our bad policies to our trade partners. A U.S.-UK deal should leave the National Health Service off the table and exclude terms that would raise drug prices in either country.”
--Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
“We cannot allow U.S.-UK negotiations to produce yet another ‘free trade’ deal that empowers multinational corporations to pursue their global deregulation agenda. Such deals undermine government policies that protect local farmers’ livelihoods, help countries maintain food self-sufficiency and preserve the environment for future generations. We caution against any provisions that threaten safe food, clean water, and common-sense consumer labeling.”
--Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
“Our approach to trade policy needs to be fundamentally overhauled to benefit working families, not just the executives and large shareholders of multinational corporations. This is especially true in this moment, when workers worldwide face unprecedented threats to their ability to earn a living. Any new trade deal, including with the United Kingdom, must include stronger protections for workers, not increased incentives for corporations in search of the lowest wages and weakest labor standards. Workers in call centers and other industries are tired of agreements that enable corporations to pit American workers against workers in other countries in a race to the bottom, instead of raising wages and standards for all workers and creating good jobs here in the U.S.”
--Dan Mauer, Director of Government Affairs, Communications Workers of America (CWA)
“Fixing an existing bad deal like NAFTA to try to reduce its ongoing damage is different from creating a good trade pact from scratch. A good U.S.-UK agreement would be about production, not deregulation with trade terms that benefit workers and farmers in both countries and protect the environment, but none of the corporate giveaways found in past pacts that undermine financial regulation and food and product safety and empower monopolistic online firms to threaten our privacy and dodge accountability for selling us fake and dangerous products.”
--Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
“If the UK is to act on the environmental and social crises we face, or lead international climate talks with integrity, we cannot chase a trade deal with a nation that is abandoning climate commitments and defending polluting industries. Rules that prevent overuse of vital antibiotics on livestock or stop dangerous pesticides being sprayed on our food cannot be traded away in a US deal. Now is not the time to be putting the standards that protect our health and environment on the line.”
--Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth EWNI
“The Government has failed to convincingly set out what it hopes to achieve through a US-UK trade deal, despite the risks it could pose to the environment, food standards and public health. It is difficult to see how the deal is consistent with our climate change commitments, especially the goal of net-zero by 2050. The deal poses severe risks to UK agriculture and food standards, which the Government has refused to protect in law. And the deal threatens the NHS and medicines pricing - a key priority for US negotiators.”
--David Lawrence, Trade Justice Movement
“Our precious and beloved NHS must not be ‘on the table’ in trade negotiations with the US. We don’t believe our Prime Minister when he says it isn’t. Trump wants to make profits from our valuable patient data, let US-based companies take over providing some NHS services, deprive our universal and comprehensive service of its controlled drug costs and flood our markets with unhealthy food and drink. More and more private companies - especially US ones - already profit from our NHS. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) wants a complete re-nationalisation of the National Health Service. Trade - especially in health - should be in the public interest, not for private enrichment. No public service should be ‘tradeable’’ within trade deals.”
--John Puntis, Keep our NHS Public
“Coronavirus has exposed the flaws in the pro-corporate agenda that this trade deal is intended to entrench - from weakening public services, to bringing the market into health care, driving up medicine prices and lowering safety standards. Whatever Johnson and Trump's rhetoric, the deal will have very little impact in getting the real economy going again. The most optimistic estimates predict at most a fraction of a percent in growth. All this type of deal will do is tie the hands of the government at a time when they need full scope to provide economic stimulus, a green recovery and to protect jobs..”
--Jean Blaylock, Global Justice Now
Photo: White House/D. Myles Cullen