With the UK now officially out of world’s largest trading block, attention is turning towards what the alternatives will be. In this article, Silia Tsigska explores what leaked documents from US-UK trade talks could mean for our environment, and the efforts to protect it.
The defeat of Jeremy Corbyn and the victory of Boris Johnson in the 2019 elections received a mixed response from the British public, with many now waiting in anticipation to see how the UK’s controversial Prime Minister will deal with matters such as Brexit, domestic reform and the development of new trade policies and future partners. However, one person who was undoubtedly pleased with the election results was Donald Trump. The US President congratulated Boris on his victory and, shortly after the results, wasted no time in tweeting about their potential trade deal: “This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU. Celebrate Boris”.
Although any finalized trade deal between the USA and UK is yet to be decided, a 451-page document, which included a series of discussions between the US and the UK on the future deal was leaked from the Department of International Trade. The document gives some potential insights into how a future trade deal may shape up, with some people believing the contents of the documents explain the US desire a hard Brexit – without the regulatory constraints of the EU, the US would be able to interfere with the UK’s political institutions and markets. More specifically, the documents mentioned that “for the US the priority is securing guaranteed market access for US firms into the UK market and ensuring the services and investment rules that protect this access are as strong as possible, including capturing any future liberalization”.
High profile topics were discussed such as the food safety industry, and in particular, chemical washes; the US still uses chemicals such as chlorine to remove pathogens in farmed chickens, whereas the UK does not, thanks to the EU’s regulatory standards and the chemical wash ban of 1997. The US has “recommended that the UK maintains regulatory autonomy” – in other words, doesn’t continue to follow recommended EU regulation.
The leaked documents also brought to light US demands for protection of big corporations such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, by providing such firms “with immunity from liability for the behavior of their users”, measures that would protect these corporations from charges relating to the promotion of political propaganda, hate speech and bullying.
However, perhaps the most concerning thing about the document was the US reluctance to engage with the climate; when the subject was broached by a UK representative, who asked about the inclusion of a climate change clause in the trade agreement, the US explained that their Congress has banned including, or even mentioning matters such as greenhouse gas emission reductions in any trade agreements, a move which further isolates and trivializes the climate crisis.
Trump’s negligence towards the future of our environment has been proven time and time again through the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017, in addition to US intentions to withdraw from a secondary treaty aiming at completely cutting down carbon emissions by 2050. However, with Brexit now a reality and a changing international landscape lying in front of the UK, a major concern should be the influential role of the US in UK policies, whereby a legally binding treaty could easily corrupt the UK’s environmental sensibility and progress. And with the US calling on “both sides to share documents without them being disclosed via the US Freedom of Information Act”, giving them the freedom to overlook their usual duty of reporting the trade talks to Congress and the public, this could happen without the British people or parliament knowing.
Unfortunately, the US response to environmental concerns in initial trade talk deals means that there is a good chance a future trade deal is likely to be highly unpopular and environmentally questionable, potentially increasing fossil fuel trade, as well as the development of fossil-fuel-intensive sectors; moves powerful enough to seriously hinder climate action. However, the truth is that we simply cannot afford to have such deals anymore; the clock is ticking, but the US appears to have stopped paying attention.
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