United Kingdom civil society to U.K. Prime Minister and Trade Secretary: In midst of public health crisis, “it would be deeply inappropriate for trade negotiations with the United States to commence at this time.”
This week, IATP’s Senior Attorney Sharon Treat was scheduled to meet with public health government officials and civil society groups in the United Kingdom to share insights about a problematic trade deal both U.S. President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are anxious to enter into. Instead, the U.K. is in lockdown with London hospitals facing a “tsunami of patients” and health officials on the front lines trying to save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., mixed messages from the federal government and a delayed response mean the country could be headed for the most severe outbreak anywhere, with hospitals facing “apocalyptic” levels of cases and deaths and life-threatening shortages of 75-cent protective masks.
Yet top trade officials in both countries profess to be moving ahead quickly to begin negotiations. On March 26, a group of U.K. charities and campaigning groups wrote to the government, calling on them to halt trade negotiationswith the U.S. to focus instead on the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter was sent following comments made by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer on March 23, 2020 and reported by PoliticoPro (behind a paywall) confirming that “both the United States and the United Kingdom are committed to starting trade negotiations as soon as possible.” Although face-to-face talks have not yet started, the USTR is proceeding to draft text and share its proposals with industry and other cleared advisors. The USTR trade negotiation process is already secretive and lacks meaningful consultation outside of major corporate interests. To continue to proceed as if most businesses aren’t closed and millions of people aren’t in quarantine or hospitalized during this unprecedented pandemic is the height of irresponsibility and makes even the limited consultation a joke.
In the U.K., the signatories to the letter include food and farming groups that, like IATP, are concerned that a trade agreement with the U.S. could lead to an overall lowering of food safety standards, weaker animal welfare protections and increased unfair competition from agribusiness monopolies — companies that are currently stiffing ranchers while “making out like bandits” manipulating beef prices in the pandemic. The letter has been signed by: Baby Milk Action Network, Compassion in World Farming, CHEM Trust, Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Now, Nurses United UK, Open Rights Group, Pesticide Action Network UK, RSPCA, Soil Association, Sustain, STOPAIDS, SumOfUs, Trade Justice Movement, Traidcraft Exchange, War on Want and We Own It.