Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is continuing to exhibit a desire to have its cake and eat it over future trade deals in Europe and across the Atlantic. Following last week’s publication of its negotiating mandate for its future relationship with the European Union — in which it stated a desire for free trade deals across the world as well as with the EU — today International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has revealed the U.K. government’s wish list for a future trade deal with America — one that appears to seek a lot, while minimising access to the markets the U.S. desperately seeks.
In it, officials have sought to cool fears that they will be lowering standards in order to accommodate the import of the much-fretted-about chlorine- or acid-washed chicken from U.S. farmers. However, the document also sets out how it hopes to remove barriers and reduce tariffs to facilitate more frictionless trade with America once Britain is formally untied from European regulation at the end of the Brexit transition period this December. (The U.K. and the U.S. do not have a bilateral trade deal and the U.K., as a member of the European Union, has until now been unable to negotiate one as an independent nation state.)
The U.K. is keen to access the American digital services sector as well as artificial intelligence, while it has outlined aims to reduce trade barriers for British car manufacturers, ceramicists, and producers of the likes of....Cheddar cheese, which currently receives a 17.6 percent levy at U.S. customs.
This comes off the back of the European Union setting out their own mandate for negotiations, which formally opened in Brussels today, whereby they have stated a strong disinclination for the U.K. to lower, among other things, food standards and animal welfare provisions. The EU is determined to maintain what it calls a “level playing field,” implicitly mindful of the U.K.’s eagerness to do a deal with America. In the mandate, it says: “Given the union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the envisaged partnership must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.” European farmers, indeed like those in Britain who have said it would be “insane”, do not welcome being undercut by American exports. Similarly, the word “chlorine” in the context of chicken is unpalatable for many British consumers.
As such, and to mitigate extra political pressure, at least in the short-term, today’s document states: “The government’s manifesto has made it clear that in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Whether this is an actual blow for the Americans (who probably care more about access to the National Health Service, which is also said to be “off the table”) or early stage negotiating hubris by Truss’ department for international trade will be become clearer as each side is drawn into making practical concessions over the coming weeks and months.
It’s a bit like a game of chicken.