Trade has been a big focus of the Brexit vote. As Greens argued during the referendum campaign, the negative impacts of leaving the EU are not just political, they are economic, social, cultural and environmental. Trade, too, has always been about much more than the economic bottom line.
Greens are not anti-trade, but we have consistently opposed trade deals like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US because of the negative social, environmental and employment impacts of these agreements, and also because they amount to a power shift in favour of multinational corporations at the expense of the public good. They include provisions for private tribunals operating outside existing legal systems where these companies can sue elected governments. Greens continue to oppose these deals, but, astonishingly, many Labour politicians, as well as Lib Dems and Tories, continue to support them. They proved this again recently by voting for CETA in the European Parliament.
If the UK government is determined to replace EU single market membership with a close, comprehensive UK-US trade deal with Trump, the impacts could be severe. If such a deal includes an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, this gives US corporations significant power and leverage over the UK, with a permanent threat to progressive legislation from huge compensation claims. The manifold problems include threats in a number of areas often presented as nothing more than ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’. These include threats to the precautionary principle, farming systems with high levels of environmental and animal protection, or restrictions on GMOs. Hard Brexit could help present a Trump trade deal as ‘necessary’ and this could be the fall-out.
A trade deal with India is presented as an ‘opportunity’ arising from Brexit. But India’s central demand in any such deal is the opening up of Britain to Indian migrant workers, something the UK government has consistently resisted and which goes against the (shameful) anti-immigrant stance of May’s government.
Will Britain ensure our trading partners meet International Labour Organisation standards or safeguard human rights, as is currently the case with the EU’s international trade deals? Or will a Britain outside the EU reject these important safeguards as barriers to non-EU trade agreements pursued at any price?