Don’t forget Brexit: Three priorities for trade justice in the coming months.

ticking clockAmidst a health pandemic, economic crisis and global protests against racism, it is easy to forget about Brexit. In fact, we might want to forget about Brexit. But as of today we are six months into the eleven-month Brexit transition period:- and the clock is ticking to find a deal with the EU.

Find three crucial factors below and take action - thanks to CotL member David Lawrence who works for TJM for writing for us and condensing a huge subject into such an easy to understand 3-minute read!

So, with just four months to go, how are things looking? Boris Johnson has ruled out any prospect of extension after January, which realistically gives the UK’s negotiators about two months to find a deal with the EU, before it goes through the lengthy ratification process. 

Meanwhile the UK is beginning trade talks with a number of new partners, including the US, Australia, New Zealand and Trans-Pacific countries (which led to Boris Johnson waving a packet of Tim Tams on TV). 

The Trade Justice Movement, of which Christians on the Left is a member, represents NGOs, faith groups and trade unions to campaign for trade which works for people and planet. The next few months will be critical for us, but there are three key things we are calling for as the UK develops its new, independent trade policy. 

 

1. The EU deal must be the absolute priority 

 

I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of elation at finding new trade partners, but the fact remains that the EU is our largest and most important trading partner, by some margin. 

We rely on the EU for two particular kinds of trade which are impossible to recreate with more distant trade partners; namely, ‘just in time’ manufacturing, which relies on the speedy movement of parts (such as car production), and trade in fresh produce, where speed is of course essential. 

The UK’s food supply chains held up pretty well during the Covid pandemic, but demonstrated once more our reliance on the EU. In a no-deal cliff edge at the end of December, things could be much worse. 

Trade with the EU also matters for justice: the EU enforces minimum labour and environment standards. These are included in its ‘level playing field’ demands in its negotiation objectives, which the UK has so far rejected. 

As Christians, we should be concerned about the government refusing to commit to minimum rights for workers and minimum environmental protections, at a time when both workers and our natural environment are at so much risk.

 

2. We should be cautious about a US deal

 

The government has pushed for a deal with the US, but there are a number of serious roadblocks in the way. 

First, the US Presidential election means we can’t assume this will happen any time soon. Second, President Trump has made it clear that his priorities for a US-UK trade deal include deregulating food, agriculture, the environment and possibly healthcare too. 

In leaked documents detailing discussions between UK and US negotiators, the US demanded that climate change should not be mentioned anywhere in the deal. 

The US has pushed for market access for its food products - which are often made using practices illegal in the UK, because they are harmful to animal welfare or the environment - including GM crops, hormone-fed meat and chlorine-washed chicken. 

The US has also asked to reform the NHS medicines-purchasing model to advantage US pharmaceutical firms. 

All in all, the US deal presents a number of risks to our regulations and rights, and we should be very cautious about pursuing a deal any time soon.

 

3. We urgently need scrutiny 

 

Lastly, we need a system to scrutinise new trade deals which is transparent and gives MPs a guaranteed vote. 

The upcoming Trade Bill is an opportunity to secure this in law, and we are supporting a Conservative backbench MP, Jonathan Djanogly, who has tabled an amendment to give MPs a guaranteed vote on all new trade deals. 

Please do write to your local MP and ask them to support Djanogly’s amendment! This will be absolutely critical for ensuring that new trade agreements are designed in such a way that they maintain high standards, protect our public services, our workers and the environment. 

The next few months will be a critical period in UK trade policy. The priority is to avoid a no-deal cliff-edge at the end of the year: this, especially in the context of Covid, could be disastrous. 

 

Then, with a transparent and democratic system of trade deal scrutiny in place, we can begin the difficult but exciting and important work of ensuring that our new trade policy works for people and planet.

 

 

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published this page in Articles 2020-07-13 11:40:46 +0100