US trade deal would mean ‘submitting to someone else’s wishes’, academic says
A no-deal Brexit would force the UK to “submit” to Donald Trump rather than “taking back control” from the European Union (EU), experts have warned.
Any trade deal with the US would be “entirely on their terms” and would open up Britain’s health service, pharmaceutical industry and food market to American corporate interests, Professor Alex de Ruyter, director of Birmingham City University’s Centre for Brexit Studies, told The Independent.
Negotiating objectives outlined by Mr Trump’s administration include full market access for US drug firms and a block on British state institutions – such as the NHS – discriminating against American companies when purchasing goods and services.
The US is also demanding “comprehensive market access” for its agricultural firms, which have long complained about Europe’s ban on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-boosted beef, and genetically modified crops.
“We wouldn’t be taking back control, we would be submitting to someone else’s wishes,” Prof de Ruyter said.
Theresa May’s government has yet to publish its own demands for a US deal but has said it would insist on “high standards for businesses, workers and consumers”.
The UK, which has an economy seven times smaller than the US, was in a “very weak” negotiating position without the collective clout of the EU, said Prof de Ruyter, who has previously warned Brexit would leave the UK worse off and could even trigger the breakup of the NHS.
“This a country that’s just cut itself off from its biggest market, desperate to seek new economic agreements with anyone,” he added. “If you see the sort of way [the US] are now engaged with trade disputes with China and India, and you compare them to Britain – a small- to middling-sized economy in the North Atlantic – there isn’t much to negotiate. It’s take it on our terms or nothing.”
Ilona Serwicka, a research fellow in the economics of Brexit at the UK Trade Policy Observatory echoed these concerns.
“The language of the UK-US document is aggressive: demanding concessions but offering little in return,” she said. “While the EU may have been able to resist US pressure, after Brexit, the UK may find it more difficult given its very weak negotiating position.”
Europe’s single market has a GDP of £14.3 trillion, more than seven times that of the UK’s alone.
Britain sold £112bn of good and services to the US – its largest single trading partner – in 2017, amounting to 18 per cent of Britain’s total exports. US exports to the UK in the same year were worth £93bn, some 3.6 per cent of total American sales around the world.
The US ambassador to the UK said Mr Trump was clear that any trade deal between the two countries “has to include farming and farm products”.
Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, Woody Johnson dismissed criticism of American agricultural practices as a “marketing campaign … designed perhaps by the EU” to create barriers to US products.
The National Farmers Union and the RSPCA have voiced fears that the UK could sign a deal which threatens food safety and animal welfare, prompting Downing Street to insist it “will not lower our food standards as part of a future trading agreement”.
International trade secretary Liam Fox also promised to protect the NHS during negotiations, after campaigners warned US objectives would allow American companies to “run riot” in the health service.
He told the Commons International Trade Committee that the government would insist that “public service regulation will be exempt from the treaty”.
Dr Fox said the US negotiating objectives were “exactly what we expected to see, because it is exactly what the US has done in other trade negotiations”.
The objectives are the opening gambit in what are expected to be lengthy negotiations stretching over a number of years.
Prof de Ruyter predicted there was “no way on earth” the UK and US would reach a deal unless Britain crashed out of Europe without a withdrawal agreement.
He said: “If we have a backstop applying to Northern Ireland until such a time that we have economic agreement with the EU, there won’t be a deal with the US because [in] the obvious sectors that the US will be pushing for – agriculture and big pharma and so on – there will be no access for them.”