Trade after Brexit
Which countries will the government prioritise for trade deals?
The uncertainty around the Brexit process means that we won’t know for sure if the UK will have an independent trade policy in a few months time. However, in the last two years, trade secretary Liam Fox has initiated ‘working groups’ with 21 countries on future trade deals. Last summer, the Department of International Trade launched consultations on future trade deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand and for joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (formerly known as TPP). We launched an e-action asking people to respond to these consultations and the government received a total of 600,000 submissions, making this the biggest consultation in UK history. There is still no formal government response on this consultation as yet.
Will existing EU trade deals be rolled-over?
As a member of the EU, the UK is part of about 40 trade agreements which the EU has with more than 70 countries. The government has been trying to replicate, or 'roll-over', these trade deals. However so far, Liam Fox has only managed to roll-over six deals: Israel, Palestinian Authority, Switzerland, Faroe Islands, Eastern and Southern Africa and Chile.
What are the threats from post-Brexit trade deals?
Trade deals have huge impacts on our rights and protections on a range of issues from public services to food standards to the environment. They are not just about selling more goods to other countries, but are often about giving away huge powers to big business and can affect every aspect of our society. We need to be aware of the potential threats of these trade deals and make sure these trade deals do not destroy our our rights and protections.
Threat to the environment
Trade deals can be used to prevent efforts to protect the environment and combat climate change. If governments introduce regulations to promote renewable energy and limit the use of dirty fossil fuels, or require environmental impact assessments, or ban pollutants – they can all be challenged as barriers to trade. This risks the sustainable future of our planet for everyone.
Instead, trade deals should explicitly recognise that environmental standards and climate commitments take precedence over trade rules.
Threat to public services
Increasingly trade deals push countries to open up markets in public services and this can entrench privatisation. Once this is done, trade rules can prevent governments from ever taking back control of public services in the public interest. This is a threat to public services here in the UK, where big corporations would love to get their hands on more of the NHS or increase the privatisation of education. It can be even more of a threat for developing countries, who may be prevented from ever establishing strong public services. Instead, public services should be excluded from trade deals.
Threat to health
As well as the threat to the NHS and healthcare services in other countries, trade rules also limit access to medicines. Trade deals have been used to impose stringent patent requirements for medicines. This keeps prices out of reach forpeople across the world for longer, just so that pharmaceutical giants can make more money. New trade deals are likely to try and stretch this even further, undermining the production of affordable non-branded medicines that are vital for most people in developing countries.
Instead, patents rules should not be part of trade deals. And public policy goals such as healthcare must have priority over trade rules in reality, not just lip service.
Threat to food and agriculture
Trade deals threaten to strip away regulations on pesticide, antibiotic and hormone use in farming. We need to move away from a high-intensity, high-chemical, low-animal welfare approach to farming, toward an agro-ecological approach that supports jobs, health and the planet, yet trade rules can prevent this.
Trade also treats food like any other commodity, rather than a basic right, and undermines the livelihoods of small-scale farmers across the world.
Instead, trade deals should allow governments the policy space to support small-scale farmers and the right to food.
Threat of corporate courts
Modern trade deals include ‘corporate courts’ which let foreign corporations sue governments for passing regulations that could affect corporate profits.[insert hyperlink back to stopISDS page] This is done through an international arbitration process that completely bypasses our own national justice system. In practice, this means corporations can sue governments for doing almost anything they don’t like – environmental protection, regulating finance, renationalising public services, anti-smoking policies – you name it.
Instead, corporate courts should be abandoned, and disputes resolved within national legal systems.
What you can do
We need to open up the process and allow scrutiny and democracy to improve the way trade deals work.