In Brief

What price a UK-US post-Brexit trade deal?

US lobbyists seek changes to UK standards amid fears rush for quick trade deal could see protections weakened

US lobby groups are pushing to change UK standards in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, emissions and tech, stoking concerns the rush to secure a quick post-Brexit trade deal will lead to the weakening of hard-fought protections.

More than 100 comments have been submitted by lobby groups to the office of the US Trade Representative “to help develop US goals as it prepares to start trade talks with the UK after Brexit,” reports the BBC.

Responses to the consultation, which was launched late last year, “were dominated by the powerful food and agriculture lobby, which made nearly a quarter of the total submissions received — far more than any other sector of the US economy,” says Unearthed.

The meat lobby wants to the sale of growth hormone-fed beef, currently banned in the UK and EU, to be allowed in the UK.

There are also calls for US officials to seek lower tariffs on agriculture goods, while farming groups are demanding any deal should relax current EU rules governing genetically modified crops, antibiotics in meats, and pesticides and herbicides.

Drugs companies, meanwhile, want changes to the NHS drugs approval process, including price controls, to allow the health service to buy more US drugs.

Technology firms have also weighed in with a list of demands, chiefly that the UK abandon plans for a so-called digital tax on big internet firms such as Amazon and Google as well as prohibiting rules that data be stored locally.

The comments effectively fire the opening salvo in what is expected to be a bitter battle between US and UK trade representatives.

The International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has insisted that a US-UK deal to remove tariffs and other trade barriers would see transatlantic trade between the two countries increase by £40bn a year by 2030.

Yet many fear this could lead to pressure to water down or even scrap food, farming, health, manufacturing regulations despite promises by the government that environmental and worker’s rights will be protected post-Brexit.

Last year, The Guardian reported that “an unprecedented drive to lobby ministers to ditch strict EU safety standards in order to secure a US trade deal is being drawn up by a transatlantic group of conservative thinktanks”.

Greenpeace, whose Unearthed investigative team first revealed the submissions, “warned there is a danger that UK ministers would see such a deal as attractive in return for sealing a quick trade bargain with Washington”, iNews reports.

A 2018 investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed a catalogue of hygiene failings in recent years in some major US meat plants producing poultry, beef and pork products.

“The revelations will reignite fears that dirty US meat could flood into Britain if strict food safety standards aren’t maintained after Brexit,” says the Bureau.

In a statement to Unearthed, shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said:

“[Environment Secretary Michael] Gove may not allow our domestic standards to be lowered but Fox may allow you to buy the American produce that is produced to a lower tolerance level and is therefore cheaper. In their mind that is not a lowering of our standards, it is simply ‘Consumer Choice’ and the pursuit of free trade.”

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