Exclusive: UK trade minister reverses decision to remove think tank meetings from public register

By William James, Andy Bruce  09/03/2020

LONDON (Reuters) – British trade minister Liz Truss has reversed a decision to remove meetings she held with an influential free-market think tank from the public record, a move the opposition Labour Party said raised questions about lobbying in government. Two meetings and a dinner with the Institute of Economic Affairs will be added back to government transparency data after the department deleted them in August, arguing at the time that they were held in a personal capacity, not in her role as trade minister.

Labour has accused Truss of trying to hide the meetings and described the latest u-turn as “shambolic farce”, saying she appeared to have been caught trying to circumvent rules designed to stop “secret lobbying” of ministers. On Thursday, one of Truss’s junior ministers wrote to Labour to say that the meetings would now be reinstated on the public record, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

“The Secretary of State (Truss) was not immediately aware of these changes made at the end of August, and has now carefully considered the appropriate Cabinet Office guidelines,” Graham Stuart wrote in the letter.“Sometimes it is not entirely clear-cut whether an event is ‘political’ or is independent of a Minister’s official responsibilities. However, in the interests of full transparency, she has asked that these entries are to be reinstated as per the original departmental publication.” Stuart said senior Labour figures had not published transparency information about their meetings with the media since 2016.

The IEA is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most influential right-leaning think tanks. It promotes free-markets and its research has argued for a clean break from the European Union since the 2016 Brexit referendum.The trade department originally said the IEA’s meetings with Truss were included on the transparency register due to an administrative error. The subsequent removal was the first in the department’s history. The department did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Labour’s trade policy chief Emily Thornberry said there were further questions to be answered about the meetings, including who Truss met and what was discussed.

Book on the US trade deal. You can get a free copy (or just read it online) here: https://tradesecrets.globaljustice.org.uk/

Launch event here:   www.globaljustice.org.uk/events/book-launch-trade-secrets-truth-about-us-trade-deal

 

July 15th:From Politico this morning

Biden and the British farmers: Any post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal — either with Donald Trump or with a potential Joe Biden administration — is going to have to include “agriculture liberalisation” and the government should embrace it, albeit “sensitively,” says a report out today from the Policy Exchange think tank. “Improving market access for U.S. agriculture exports is a bipartisan interest,” in Washington, the report makes clear. In other words anyone thinking a Democrat president might do U.K. farmers a favor has another thing coming. The report suggests either phasing in new import rules or only dropping tariffs on food produced to high welfare standards. But you can be sure farmers won’t like the sound of this one bit.

A good piece by Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics on the risks of a trade deal with the US and weakened pesticide safety standards:

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-us-trade-talks-trump-food-standards-pesticides-eu-a9556581.html

The UK is teetering on the brink of two very different futures as it negotiates new trade deals with the EU and US. The outcome of these negotiations will have a profound impact on UK food standards.
The new House of Lords sub-committee on International Agreements is seeking evidence on the UK-US trade deal. The deadline is Friday 26 June, though they will accept later submissions.
You can also submit evidence to the Trade Bill’s Public Bill Committee, if you have not done so already. More details here: https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/Scrutiny/Trade_PBC%20call%20for%20evidence.pdf
IPPR poll 2018 shows UK public prepared to sacrifice US trade deal to keep high food (safety) standards.
There was some recent polling about extending the Brexit transition showing people are against the UK leaving with no deal. (Eg moving to trade under WTO terms)

 

Welcome to this months Trade Justice Briefing, linking the top stories in trade to their real-life impacts. As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK has begun trade negotiations with the US, the EU and Japan. Meanwhile, the Trade Bill returns to Parliament, raising concerns about Parliamentary scrutiny and the impact of trade deals on food standards and the NHS.

US-UK trade talks continue despite coronavirus

US-UK trade talks began last month and both administrations say there has been ‘progress’. However, the talks face a number of hurdles. (1) the US Presidential election in November means it is unlikely that any serious deal will be agreed this year. (2) there are a number of sticking points: for the UK, there is backlash from farmers, NGOs and even the Daily Mail on food import standards and animal welfare. for the US, Trump wants the UK to align with its foreign policy objectives, particularly on China, and abandon plans for a Digital Services Tax. (3) the deal needs to be approved by Congress, which has concerns about a No Deal Brexit and how this could impact the Good Friday Agreement.

Look out for TJM’s comprehensive briefing on a US-UK deal, which will be published later this month!

5/18/2020 Reuters.Britain, U.S. hopeful trade talks can proceed at pace: London

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-britain/britain-u-s-hopeful-trade-talks-can-proceed-at-pace-london-idUSKBN22U123

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain and the United States are hopeful that negotiations for a trade agreement can proceed at an accelerated pace, Britain’s department for trade said on Monday in an update on the talks after the first round concluded last week.  “Both sides are hopeful that negotiations for a comprehensive trade agreement can proceed at an accelerated pace,” British trade minister Liz Truss said in a statement.   “Ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer and I agreed that a second virtual round will take place in the weeks of 15 and 26 June, and that in advance of that negotiating teams will continue their work and meet virtually on a rolling basis, with meetings continuing throughout this week and beyond.”   Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Kate Holton

 

Stop Press: Second Reading of the Trade Bill will be on Wednesday 20 May.

 

UK plan to cut US farming tariffs sparks ministerial spat – https://www.ft.com/content/e583b8a2-4074-4fa9-9c43-08a9979e0bee

Politico Pro   3rd May 2020

U.K. trade talks with U.S. begin Tuesday   By Emilio Casalicchio and Doug Palmer

https://subscriber.politicopro.com/article/2020/05/uk-trade-talks-with-us-begin-tuesday-3980070

LONDON — The U.K. and U.S. will launch talks on a free-trade agreement on Tuesday.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will hold an initial video call with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, with around 100 officials listening in from both sides.

Truss pledged to drive a “hard bargain” with Washington and insisted a trade deal was “essential” to ease the economic burden of the coronavirus.

The first round of talks is set to take two weeks, with further rounds roughly every six weeks. Britain hopes to win lower goods tariffs on its exports to the U.S. on things like cars and ceramics, as well as a package on services, among other things.

Ministers hope negotiations with Washington will pile pressure on the EU in the Brexit trade talks, where the two sides are at an impasse over key sticking points such as fisheries and level playing field rules to limit competition.

Truss said: “As we kick off trade negotiations this week, we will drive a hard bargain that benefits every part of the U.K. and works for the small businesses who are suffering most in this difficult period.”

Jeff Emerson, a spokesperson for the U.S. trade representative, added: “I can confirm the talks start Tuesday by video-conference.”

On the U.K. side, the talks will be led by negotiator Oliver Griffiths and overseen by Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser Crawford Falconer. The talks will be held remotely until travel becomes possible.

##^

 

April 9th 2020

The U.S. and the United Kingdom will begin talks on a potential trade deal in the “near future,” a USTR official told Inside U.S. Trade on Thursday, adding that the countries are “rightfully focused” today on curtailing the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. released its negotiating objectives for a deal with the UK in February 2019, and the UK followed suitlast month. The two countries have since shifted much of their energy to fighting the pandemic.

“Both the United States and the United Kingdom are committed to starting trade negotiations as soon as possible,” a USTR official said. “At the present time, both our governments are rightfully focused on stemming the spread of the coronavirus, protecting the health and safety of our citizens, and finding innovative solutions to combat this outbreak. Therefore, we will begin active trade negotiations at an appropriate time in the near future.”

Both countries “remain in regular contact on when to proceed with the negotiations,” the spokesperson continued.

Formal talks were slated to begin the week of March 23, the UK Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday. USTR did not confirm the reported date.

The Telegraph also reported that talks were on hold indefinitely, and that videoconference talks were being considered.

USTR, in its negotiating objectives document, included the same 24 chapters that were included in its objectives for a deal with the European Union, though it included more expansive language on intellectual property and softer provisions on anti-corruption issues.

In addition to those areas, U.S. lawmakers and business groups have called for more U.S. exports of beef and poultry, among other agricultural products, as well as for negotiators to address some sanitary and phytosanitary barriers. Several senators and technology groups have also urged USTR to address the UK’s potential implementation of a 2 percent digital services tax.

In its 2020 National Trade Estimate report, released last week, USTR noted that final legislation needed to implement the tax, which was expected last month, was delayed.

“Nevertheless, the United Kingdom has reaffirmed its intention to implement the tax,” the report states.

Meanwhile, the UK has been pushing for a repeal of U.S. tariffs on British products that were imposed after the World Trade Organization authorized retaliation on up to $7.5 billion worth of trade against the European Union. The authorization followed a WTO ruling that the EU was providing illegal subsidies to Airbus.

UK Secretary of International Trade Liz Truss said she raised the issue with Lighthizer during a conversation in February.

The UK, as outlined in its negotiating document, plans to push for high-standard digital trade and services provisions as well as a reduction of trade barriers in talks with the U.S. The country also restated its refusal to compromise food safety or animal welfare standards and said it would like to achieve “access that goes beyond the level set in the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement.”

U.S. agricultural standards were a contentious issue during Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks. UK civil society groups argued that TTIP would reduce food safety and animal welfare standards by forcing the country to accept so-called “chlorinated chicken” and “hormone beef.” But Lighthizer last month said he did not believe such issues would torpedo the talks.

Government procurement was also a highly contentious issue in the TTIP negotiations, with both sides contending they had the more open market and demanding more access from the other.

The UK’s exit from the EU in January freed the country to negotiate a trade deal with the U.S., but the scope of any deal will depend on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Brussels. The UK and the EU have set a December deadline for their own talks.

EU officials, in a letter obtained by the German news outlet Der Spiegel this week, called the chances that the EU and UK might reach a trade agreement by December a “fantasy.” The letter cites issues related to the pandemic in suggesting trade talks might be put on ice. — Isabelle Icso (iicso@iwpnews.com)


We are a signatory to this letter:

Letter to PM and SoS for International Trade on US talks and Covid-19 epidemic

26 March 2020

Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State for International Trade,

The United States Trade Representative announced on 23 March 2020 that “both the United States and the United Kingdom are committed to starting trade negotiations as soon as possible”, and the UK government has similarly signaled its desire to begin and conclude negotiations soon. This is despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has created a public health crisis and associated government response in both the UK and the US.... For more

 

In response to the publication of the UK government’s negotiating objectives, Global Justice Now is launching a new e-action and briefing on the implications to the NHS.  GJN is asking people to ask their MPs to write to Liz Truss about the key threats to the NHS.  Do promote on your social media channels if you can.

Action: https://act.globaljustice.org.uk/protect-our-nhs-trade-deal-trump

Briefing: https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/us-uk-trade-deal-threats-nhs-and-drug-pricing

Blogpost: https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2020/mar/4/dont-be-fooled-governments-pledge-keep-nhs-out-trump-trade-deal-these-are-just-empty

Tweet: https://twitter.com/GlobalJusticeUK/status/1235170592825004033

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/globaljusticeuk/posts/10157520656567034

 

Useful articles on UK US trade deals by the Trade Justice Movement and Global Justice Now

The Guardian: It’s not just chlorinated chicken: five foods a US trade deal could bring to the UK

The Independent:  US-UK trade deal: Four things you might have missed

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