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United States: Trade Deal

Volume 796: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the government of the United States’ negotiating objectives for a future trade deal with the United Kingdom, published on 28 February.

My Lords, negotiating an ambitious free trade agreement with the USA that maintains our high standards for business, workers and consumers is a priority. We welcome this demonstration of the commitment by the US to begin negotiations. The UK and US economies are already highly compatible. We welcome the emphasis on state-of-the-art provision in financial services and digital trade, where the UK is recognised as a world leader. We will publish UK objectives for parliamentary consideration ahead of negotiations.

My Lords, I think that is a generous interpretation of the aims of the United States Government. It is clear that the price of a trade deal with the US, which this Government will be desperate to achieve, will be high. It will certainly include the possibility of the UK having to pay more for US medicines, of our data protection provisions being swept away, and, with US access to our food markets, of lower standards in food safety and animal welfare. That comes with the added bonus of the US ambassador lecturing our farmers on the delights of chlorine-washed chicken and growth hormones in cattle. In their desperation for a deal, are the Government exchanging so-called vassalage to the EU with subjection to the United States Government?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. As with all negotiations, these objectives mark the starting point for the USA and not the end. They are entirely in keeping with the objectives mandated in US legislation for all trade negotiations and are not surprising. In relation to the NHS, the Government have consistently made it clear that they will continue to ensure that rigorous protections for the NHS are included in all trade agreements. Protecting public services, including the NHS, is of the utmost importance, and the Government will continue to ensure that all decisions about public services are made by the UK Government and not by our trade partners.

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in ensuring that the US ambassador should be in awe of UK producers and the high standards of animal welfare that they meet? Will she make representations to the US ambassador to tell us what the density of their chicken and beef production is?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. The USA is already our largest single-country trading partner. Trade between us is worth more than £180 billion and accounts for one-fifth of UK exports. We have been clear that any future deal with the US must work for UK consumers, farmers and companies, as well as ensuring food safety, animal welfare standards and environmental protection. As I said, it is too soon to say exactly what will be included in the future UK-US deal, but we are committed to reaching a high-quality, high-standards deal—

My Lords, a month before the US published its trade negotiation objectives for the United Kingdom, it published its Summary of Specific Negotiating Objectives for trade with the European Union. The sections on agriculture, for both the European Union and the United Kingdom, are identical—word for word. We have long held that the use of decontaminants on carcasses, as a replacement for good hygiene in farms and slaughterhouses, is not acceptable, and we prohibit it under UK law. We will have a choice: either to align ourselves to the existing European standards, which are the highest, or to adopt the US standards, which the US is asking us to do. Which will we be aligned to: high standards or low standards?

Among the other things said by the US ambassador on the “Today” programme this morning, he stated: “I don’t think we would want to lower any of these standards but just want to have more trade between the US and the UK”. On agricultural scope, we are committed to negotiating a full and comprehensive free trade deal. That means discussing all areas of free trade. As with all negotiations, the US objectives on matters such as agriculture mark the starting point and not the end.

My Lords, it was all going to be so easy, according to Mr Fox and his friends, since when an amendment has been moved. Have the Government realised that they are now confronting a nationalist President who wants to do deals and that commerce is largely under the control of the Congress, whose members want to bring home the bacon to their own districts?

My Lords, once again, I do not agree. An ambitious UK-US free trade agreement will benefit the UK economy, improving access to the whole of the world’s largest, most dynamic economy. It will make it even easier for the UK and US to trade with each other and to invest in each other’s economies. Surely that is a good thing for our country.

My Lords, this is the second Question today where Ministers have promised that leaving the European Union will make no difference to our regulations. The leave campaign promised us before the referendum that part of the whole rationale for leaving the European Union was to change regulations—indeed, to lower their number, get rid of them and have a free market. Are the Government now betraying that leave promise?

My Lords, we are not betraying any promise. This Question is about negotiations between the US and the UK. We are working closely with our closest allies to get the best deal we can for UK businesses, consumers and others. We should support that aim wholeheartedly.

Does the Minister accept that, with the primary US negotiating objective being to,

“Secure comprehensive duty-free market access”,

for the US, the UK will be forced to concede on standards, eliminate barriers and agree restrictions on who we can trade with? Page 2 of the recently published US-UK negotiating objectives paper lists as an objective:

“Establish a mechanism to remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of U.S. food and agricultural products”.

I understand the US’s aim, but what will the Government do to push back on that?

My Lords, as I have said, as with all negotiations, those objectives mark the starting point of the US and not the end, so we will continue to discuss these issues very closely. We have already taken concrete steps towards further developing our strong trading relationship with the US. This includes signing early last month a mutual recognition agreement on conformity assessment, which will secure trade in goods worth up to £12.8 billion as we leave the EU.