In Brief

US Republicans back post-Brexit trade deal

More than 40 senators offer major boost to Boris Johnson as fears of impact on UK food standards and NHS grow

A group of American senators have signed a letter to Boris Johnson pledging to back a new trade agreement with Britain regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal, in a major boost for the prime minister’s hopes of securing a quick trade deal after Brexit.

Forty-five Republican senators, representing the vast majority of the party’s caacus in Congress, pledged to come to Britain’s aid if Johnson is forced to leave with no deal, while also vowing to maintain full co-operation on intelligence through the “Five Eyes” alliance which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand and Nato.

The Times says the “unprecedented show of support” is “a boost for Johnson, who has faced warnings from Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, that the lower house of Congress would block a trade deal if Britain left the EU in a way that left a hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic”.

The 40 prominent Irish-American politicians and business leaders who wrote to new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith last week warning “are certainly neither the first nor the last group to warn of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit to peace and stability in the region, but it is a significant intervention, because, indirectly, they represent a real-life obstacle to the new prime minister’s hopes of a UK-USA  deal”, says the New Statesman.

Both houses of Congress would need to ratify a trade deal before it can come into effect and Downing Street has made securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the US a priority.

“Johnson's government has promised that a speedy agreement with Washington would give the UK economy a significant shot in the arm” says DW. “Critics, however, have warned that a US-UK deal will not offset the expected loss of trade with the 27 remaining members of the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner.”

Both Theresa May’s government and supporters of Boris Johnson have repeatedly claimed that a US-UK trade deal will not see the weakening of food standards in Britain nor the opening of the NHS to American pharmaceutical companies.

However, most trade experts say both these will have to be on the table of any future negotiation while even the US government’s own draft proposal is dominated by demands from the agriculture and healthcare sectors.

In a sign of the hard bargain the US will drive, The Daily Telegraph reported this weekend that the Trump administration warned Britain that if it proceeds with a so-called digital tax on the likes of Amazon and Google, the country can kiss goodbye to a free trade deal.

The measure, which was proposed in 2018 by then chancellor Philip Hammond in response to fears that technology giants were not paying their fair share of tax, is due to come into effect in April next year.

“The ultimatum gives an indication of the troubles Britain could face negotiating future trade deals alone,” says DW.

Greenpeace’s investigative journalism team, Unearthed, has revealed that the new international trade secretary, Liz Truss, who is in charge of negotiating a new US trade deal, met several right-wing American thinktanks last year to discuss deregulation and the benefits of “Reaganomics”; short-hand for the policies of the former US president Ronald Reagan based on tax cuts and deregulation.

According to The Guardian, one of the groups Truss met with is “committed to shrinking the state and cutting environmental regulation”, while another is “part of the ‘shadow trade talks’ project, designed to advocate a wide-ranging US trade deal allowing the import of American goods currently banned in Britain”.

As Britain prepares to negotiate a slew of trade agreements around the world after Brexit, Truss has also faced calls from development campaigners to rule out the use of a mechanism which has seen poor countries sued for billions by multilateral corporations.

The Independent reports that more than 900 cases have been brought over the past two decades under “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) clauses in trade deals, “which are sold to developing countries as a means to attract overseas investment but which campaigners claim restrict local governments’ ability to protect their own populations’ human rights, public health and environment”.

Under the ISDS system, governments have been successfully sued in “red carpet courts” over efforts to hold down water prices for consumers, safeguard the rights of indigenous people and crack down on tax avoidance, said Traidcraft Exchange.

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