We Must Defeat the US Trade Deal

Yves here. This post makes a critically important point that the UK press has largely ignored, by instead treating the Government’s claim that Brexit is all about the UK achieving national sovereignity. As Chris Grey has often pointed out on his Brexit Blog, the UK is too small to go it alone and will have to be affiliated with a major trade bloc. And that is the result of Dani Rodrik’s trade trilemma which we highlighted in 2007. From Rodrik’s website:

Sometimes simple and bold ideas help us see more clearly a complex reality that requires nuanced approaches. I have an “impossibility theorem” for the global economy that is like that. It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.

Here is what the theorem looks like in a picture:

To see why this makes sense, note that deep economic integration requires that we eliminate all transaction costs traders and financiers face in their cross-border dealings. Nation-states are a fundamental source of such transaction costs. They generate sovereign risk, create regulatory discontinuities at the border, prevent global regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries, and render a global lender of last resort a hopeless dream. The malfunctioning of the global financial system is intimately linked with these specific transaction costs…..

So I maintain that any reform of the international economic system must face up to this trilemma. If we want more globalization, we must either give up some democracy or some national sovereignty. Pretending that we can have all three simultaneously leaves us in an unstable no-man’s land.

As this post stresses, the Government theatrics about tossing aside its trade ties to the EU and depicting doing a series of deals with other countries, above all the US, as some sort of liberation is a con. The Tories instead are seeking to move toward a more neoliberal, less regulated economic model. Author Nick Dearden argues that this realignment will result in a greater loss of national sovereignity than remaining in the EU.

By Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. Originally published at openDemocracy

The Johnson government is sabre-rattling once again over what it will accept in a trade deal with the EU. The details of the arguments appear technical and arcane, while the media like to portray it as a bitter dispute between a divorcing couple. Sadly, this obscures the real nature of what’s at stake, which is no less than the future of Britain – what sort of country we become after Brexit, and what role we play in the world. 

That’s because modern trade deals set so many of the rules by which we live our lives. They have huge implications for our society and economy. Britain has a choice about the standards and rules it wants to live by. But it can’t have both European and American standards. Drawing closer to one bloc pushes us further from the other. For many on the right of the Tory Party there is no contest – tilting towards the US will embed a big business, low regulation model. Signing any sort of significant deal with the EU makes this harder to achieve.

In this piece, I look at what is at stake and how we can stop Johnson’s government using these parallel talks to change Britain for the worst. The article is taken from my new book, ‘Trade Secrets: the truth about the US trade deal and how we stop it’, which also includes full referencing and is available for free here.  

There is a part of Britain’s establishment which has always looked to the United States for leadership. For these Atlanticists, Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the USA is about much more than a shared history or culture. Rather, they look longingly at the US as a model economy in which big business can behave as it sees fit and rich individuals are free from irritating ‘burdens’ like public healthcare and redistributive taxes.

For such people, the referendum to leave the EU presented an opportunity to unleash a long‑cherished dream. One important vehicle to achieve this would be a trade deal with the USA. That’s because trade deals today go well beyond negotiations around duties on imports. They affect how we regulate food production, how we provide public services, how we’re allowed to regulate big business and foreign investment, and how much we are charged for our medicines. Particularly since the high point of corporate globalisation in the mid-1990s, trade deals have increasingly shaped what sort of society we live in, promoting a model of free market economics, together with tools to discipline governments that step away from this model.

The US trade deal is not really about importing more American products. It’s about importing the American economic and regulatory model. It is not about whether we trade with the US or not but whether we capitulate to a set of policies that enshrine the power of the market and big business.

In many ways there is nothing special about the US-UK trade deal. Rather, the deal is likely to reflect all that is wrong with our global trading system, a system which has played a key role in the creation of an unsustainable, anti‑social economy which has handed the major decisions over our lives to a super‑rich elite. The political crisis we are now living through is an inevitable product of this system.

It is possible to build something better. Trade does not have to be a problem, the important thing is the rules that govern trade and, relatedly, international business and capital flows. But that requires a significantly different set of trade rules to the ones we have today. How do we create a different trade system? For us, in Britain, the defeat of a US trade deal is an essential first step, throwing a major obstacle in the path of our government’s Atlanticist vision, and opening up a long-overdue debate on what sort of society we want, and the role we play in the world. From here, we can join with campaigners across the world who are fighting against similar trade rules, and begin to rebuild a movement capable of overcoming the ‘market knows best’ global economy.

Chlorine Chickens  

Trade deals today are less about reducing tariffs, already at very low levels, and more about ridding the world economy of regulations that supposedly ‘interfere’ with trade. The argument runs like this: I make lightbulbs and I want to export them into another country. The lightbulbs are safe, but they don’t meet the safety standards of the country I want to export to, so that country blocks imports of my lightbulbs. As an exporter, this higher safety standard looks like a trade barrier.

Modern trade deals spend a lot of effort trying to level (or ‘harmonise’) such standards. They do this by judging different regulations that achieve the same goal as ‘equivalent’. You can trade such goods because they’re produced in a way which achieve the same goals, even if the means by which they do this is different.

The problem with this approach is that goods are very often not ‘equivalent’ at all, and by treating them as such, we risk undermining what are often hard‑fought‑for environmental, animal welfare and consumer protections.

Take food. US food standards are radically different to Britain’s. US agriculture is dominated by massive corporations, farming on an industrial scale, with intensive use of antibiotics, hormones and steroids to promote rapid growth of animals and prevent illness in what are often extremely unpleasant and unhealthy conditions, along with an excess of chemicals, and allowances for stomach‑churning things to end up in the food we eat.

The US uses what it call a ‘science‑based’ approach, and demands it aggressively in trade talks. ‘Science-based’ is a shorthand for a system which allows business to develop and market products as it wants, and only when harm is proven can action be taken against that produce – an incredibly difficult task when big business is so well resourced. Boris Johnson and his lead trade negotiator to the EU have both endorsed the ‘science‑based’ approach, which means throwing caution to the wind when it comes to embracing technologies like genetic modification.

Britain currently embraces the ‘precautionary principle’, a different approach which puts the emphasis on ensuring no harm. Perhaps ironically this approach tries to build genuine scientific certainty before allowing businesses to produce and market products. In farming it translates into a method of food production where risks to health, welfare and sustainability, at least in theory, are minimised from ‘farm‑to‑fork’. The final product might or might not taste similar, and might or might not be as safe (US food poisoning rates are much higher than European rates), but the products are certainly not ‘equivalent’.

The US is forceful in its demand that US food made to different standards should be allowed onto British supermarket shelves. This would certainly mean more genetically modified foods. It would mean chlorine-washed chicken, the now‑famous symbol of a US trade deal. The problem is less the chlorine than what the chlorine is hiding. The washes essentially remove bacteria which has accumulated over a lifetime in which chickens can barely move, cluck or eat, never see sunlight, regularly suffer heart attacks because of their unnatural size, and are covered in sores.

Much other US meat is also produced using hormones, steroids and antibiotics to make animals grow bigger faster and to prevent them getting ill in the unnaturally close conditions in which they live. Some never see sunlight, or eat grass.

The use of many of these chemicals is bad for humans too – antibiotic overuse is threatening to make these drugs useless as bacteria develop resistance to them, which would take away one of the most crucial tools of modern medicine. US pigs regularly contain ractopamine, which makes pigs collapse, tremble, suffer liver and kidney dysfunction, and even die. No wonder over 160 countries, including Russia and China, have banned it.

Proponents of allowing these types of food into our markets often argue that it’s consumer choice: “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it!” But the argument is disingenuous, not least because the same big business lobbies pushing to cut food standards are also arguing against our labelling standards. But there’s a deeper problem too. By forcing producers into competition with those practising lower standards, they make higher standards unsustainable. Farmers would have little choice but to push for lower standards here too. It’s a classic example of how modern trade rules push down standards and regulations around the world.

Food is newsworthy, but the issue is much wider. The ‘regulatory harmonisation’ agenda stretches across the economy and encompasses other disciplines on governments too, like forcing governments to prove their regulations are no more burdensome than necessary on business. This is a path already well-trodden by decision-makers in recent years, a trade deal would lock it into place. It’s a subjective criteria which leaves governments at constant threat of being challenged. And it’s at the heart of talks around the US trade deal.

Taxing Big Tech 

In the late nineteenth century, a small group of businessmen captured the American economy, using new technologies like railways to build monopolies which brought them unprecedented levels of wealth and power. They were labelled the ‘robber barons’ and became synonymous with obscene levels of inequality and the capture of politics by private interests.

Today, a new group of corporations has risen, monopolising technologies which have become central to our society, using their power to amass unimaginable fortunes. Big Tech titans like Amazon, Google and Facebook have become more powerful and wealthy than most governments, and in coming decades their power will grow, as more of our economy becomes ‘digital’.

In order to cement their power on the global stage, these corporations are pushing for the development of new rules in trade deals. The US and Britain are among the countries pushing these rules the hardest, meaning there is certain to be a far‑reaching digital trade chapter in a US trade deal. And while it’s true that countries need to find ways to regulate the power of Big Tech, these trade ‘rules’ are not intended to do that – in fact they achieve the very opposite.

A digital trade chapter in a US trade deal could severely constrain the ability of governments to make these technologies work in the public interest. For instance, the British government has introduced a ‘digital services tax’ to help ensure effective taxation of these corporations. The US has made clear that such a tax would be incompatible with the any trade deal, and Big Tech lobbying groups for Amazon, Google and Facebook have demanded such a tax be made impossible under the deal.

It could also lower privacy standards. Britain is currently signed up to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), regarded as a gold standard agreement for online privacy. The US dislikes these regulations. Moreover, the many issues posed by the expansion of the online world into every area of our lives are complex. There is a need for public debate and exploration of ideas by policymakers. Trade rules must not be used to shut that debate down. For instance, politicians are now looking at ways of holding corporations to account for failing to tackle fake news online. But Trump has been clear that he wants to make such action impossible under a US deal.

There’s a wider issue with these more ‘intangible’ aspects of the economy which have become so much more profitable in recent decades, and one which could fundamentally threaten the NHS. Today, many big corporations see their ‘intellectual property’ as one of their most important assets. They use it to build monopoly power and to shift (and thereby minimise) their tax responsibilities around the world.

Copyright, trademarks and patents became a part of trade rules in 1995 with the passing at the WTO of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). During the 1990s, at the height of the HIV epidemic, countries were prevented from rolling out HIV medication because it was covered by these rules, which kept prices of key medicines very high. Campaigners fought for exemptions, which allowed countries to override the rules in certain circumstances. However, Big Pharma has fought back, persuading western governments, especially the US, to close these exemptions in new trade deals.

In a US-UK deal, the focus on Big Pharma’s wrath will be NICE – the regulator that sets guidelines for which medicines are cost effective for the NHS to provide. Given the NHS’s size, this has a powerful influence how much US pharmaceutical firms can get away with charging not just the UK, but other countries that take the UK as their source of ‘reference pricing’. Donald Trump has vowed to make pharmaceutical pricing a “top priority” in trade. US drug prices are eye‑watering, averaging more than four times the price paid in the UK. Such large increases in prices under a US trade deal would pose an existential threat to the NHS – driving costs for new drugs well beyond the health system’s ability to afford them.

Corporate Courts 

In the days leading up to Christmas 2001, Argentina was engulfed by one of the worst crises in its history. A decade of economic liberalisation had seen poverty soar. Large parts of Argentina’s public sector had been privatised on terms which were great for international corporations, but terrible for the people relying on the services. As a debt crisis grew, protests toppled the government. In less than two weeks Argentina went through five presidents, defaulted on its debt and then devalued its currency to put the country on a long path to recovery.

Part of this recovery involved protecting Argentinians’ access to basic services. The government froze the price of water and energy. But big business howled in protest that this broke their privatisation contracts. They claimed they’d been treated unfairly, and sued Argentina in a ‘corporate court’ made possible under the terms of investment treaties the country had signed.

Over fifty cases were lodged, claiming an astronomical $80 billion from the government. British company Anglian Water was a party to one of the claims. Having been part of a consortium that took over the Buenos Aires water system – and despite claims of atrocious service, lack of investment and a rise in waterborne diseases – Anglian and partners claimed the price freeze breached their ‘rights’. Argentina countered that the rights of its citizens should surely be the paramount concern, but the tribunal decided human rights should not override investor rights and found in favour of Anglian.

What does this have to do with a US trade deal? Well, the same mechanism that saw Argentina hauled over the coals by big business is likely to be included in the deal, leaving governments exposed to cases brought by US‑based multinationals in secret courts.

Investor‑State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – the formal name for these ‘corporate courts’ – was invented back in the 1950s, when it started to be inserted in investment deals, reflecting western countries’ suspicion of how their corporations would be treated in newly independent countries in the global south. But it’s really in the last 20 years that they have become a major problem.

Corporate courts allow foreign investors to sue governments in special tribunals when they believe their ‘rights’ have been infringed. The basis for such cases has been expanded to an almost ludicrous degree by City law firms. A foreign investor today might claim pretty much any government action that damages their future profits is ‘unfair’ or ‘expropriation’, even though the rest of us might regard the measure as a reasonable response to the harm a corporation is causing. Putting cigarettes in plain packaging, forcing toxic mines to put better environmental standards in place, or the controlling of water prices might well damage corporate profits, but the idea that they have infringed some fundamental right directly threatens a government’s ability to enact regulation. Yet these are all real ISDS cases.

Britain already has many ISDS agreements with countries around the world, but while these have been a huge problem for those countries, for the most part Britain is the more powerful partner. Establishing an ISDS agreement with the US would put the boot on the other foot: it would open Britain up to challenge by tens of thousands of US‑based multinationals.

Action on climate change would be particularly difficult. Currently the Dutch government is facing an ISDS case by energy company Uniper, which runs power plants in the country. Uniper is unhappy at the policy of banning coal‑based power generation by 2030. What’s interesting is that Uniper’s plant is fairly new, so the company can hardly claim it wasn’t aware of the growing movement to phase out coal power. In fact, Uniper’s strategy appears to be to carry on as usual and claim compensation from governments when the inevitable phase‑outs happen. ISDS is becoming a business model in itself – removing pressure for corporations to take environmental measures.

Democracy and Resistance  

How do we defeat this frightening deal? Despite a heroic fight to secure greater power over trade deals on the part of many MPs, the government has failed to transfer the powers of democratic oversight developed within the EU to Britain. MPs do not have a right to vote or debate the government’s trade objectives, they don’t have a right to effectively scrutinise the government, and they are not guaranteed a debate or vote once the trade bill is complete. Even if they are granted a vote, they cannot stop the trade deal coming into effect.

But we shouldn’t despair. Most trade deals which have been defeated – and there are plenty – have been defeated on the streets, by campaigners undaunted by the odds they were up against. From the defeat of TTIP, and its forerunner the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, to the victory over the Free Trade Area of the Americas and removal of water sector liberalisation from WTO rules, there is much to draw lessons from.

A wide coalition has already been formed to oppose the US deal. TTIP activists have been joined by new allies. On the day he was made secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, George Eustice was booed by farmers when he mentioned the US trade deal. Even pro‑government newspapers like the Mail on Sunday are running regular columns on the problems of a US trade deal.

This can reach beyond the ‘Brexit divide’. True, the politicians who led the Leave campaign want to use Brexit to deregulate and liberalise the British economy, but many of their voters want something entirely different. A recent survey shows high levels of support among young Leave voters in the north of England for environmental and animal welfare regulation.

There is every reason to hope that the US deal can be defeated if we build a sufficiently large and diverse movement. By doing so, we will not only prevent the government signing a terrible deal, but will throw a spanner into the works of their attempts to push Britain down the path of further deregulation and liberalisation.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think that what will be one interesting thing to observe is how the various strands of the Tory right juggle the trillema as they are by no means united. There are many true Liberals (nothing neo about them, they aspire to a 19th Century view of trade) among them, as well as conventional neoliberals, but there are also among their number old style English nationalists and mercantilists. I strongly suspect that Cummings and (on the rare occasions he thinks about these things), Johnson belong to the latter strains of thought. The Brexiteers have managed to be united by virtue of refusing to decide on what it is they really want beyond an exit. They can’t keep putting this off forever.

    Having said that, Rodriks trilemma is a very useful tool for thinking – I think a lot of leftists and greens have never really got their brains around this either, as is clear from the confused thinking you see from Lexiters and the splits among Greens when it comes to immigration.

    1. Zamfir

      Lexit does fit quite well in the Rodrik triangle, I think. It’s on the bottom of the triangle – less international economic integration, focus on sovereignty + democracy.

      It’s just that, well, there are other outcomes on that side of the triangle as well. The UK was always on the right-wing/neoliberal edge of the EU. I never understood why that would change outside of it. There’s an underpants gnome problem there.

      That’s aside form the option that the UK can leave the EU, but stay on the right side of the triangle – just with an American flavour instead of the EU.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I guess it depends on the Lexiter. There certainly is a type of left winger who wants to focus on democracy and local development, but in my experience many of them (at least here in Ireland) also proclaim themselves to be internationalist and in favour of open borders, at least with regard to immigration. I’ve never quite understood how they manage to square that circle.

        That said, the situation among left wingers in Ireland is unusual, in that there has always been a deep split between the nationalist left (Sinn Fein) and the internationalist left (nearly everyone else). Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s they did an almost complete switch around on the EU – Sinn Fein becoming broadly pro EU as they saw it as a way for smaller countries to maintain independence without being too tied to the nearest largest neighbour, while much of the traditional far left turned from pro-European institutions to being very anti EU, at least in private (in public they kept their mouths shut, as this was very unpopular among the working class electorate).

        1. Zamfir

          It also depends on the country, I guess. What I find so weird about British lexiters, is that the country has hardly ever tried to push the left-side boundaries of the EU

          1. vlade

            Ever since the UK joined the EU, it had only two Labour PMs, who a number would not even call leftists.

            Blair was definitely more interested in a world stage than the EU stage (ex expansion of the EU, which he considered a world-stage thing), and Brown, even if he didn’t have GFC to deal with, was not interested in the EU either.

            Since Tories on one hand pushed the EU towards more neo-liberal stance (Thatcher was very important pusher for internal market and Tories are responsible a lot for how the current EU state aid rules look like, which is ironic given how they want to avoid them onw), and used it as a convenient whipping boy on the other hand.

  2. vlade

    NC has been pointing for a veeery long time that the UK is too small a player for the “sovreignty” card to have much value. It will have to pick a side, and at the moment it seems to want to pick the US. Which, in terms of trade stuff, is going to be fun for the UK populace. I guess they will see in practice how it worked for the UK colonies some time back (when they had to take exports from the mother ship and be glad about it).

      1. vlade

        Well, it could. Say if Johnson offers a unification referendum to throw the spanner into the works? The NI is worth 8 DUP votes and a bit of pride to some old-school Tories, but is way more troubles. So it’s a win-win for the Tories no matter the result – because the question could be phrased so that the UK would have a good argument the GFA is dead if the NI says no.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          That is true of course, and I’ve no doubt that they’ve war gamed that sort of scenario – especially if they think they could scaremonger their way to a ‘no’ vote to unification, which would be a win-win for the Tories. Of course the fly in the ointment is that they could hardly do this without giving Scotland an equivalent vote.

          That said, I’ve no doubt there is an element within the Tories that would absolutely love to lose the Celtic fringes. This is one reason why I think the DUP were insane to go full Brexit, they should have seen that coming.

          1. vlade

            If Scotland leaves, that’s a plus (for Tories, Johnson won’t ever do very well in Scotland, definitely not to overcome SNP votes).

            Around the original Scottish referendum, it was said that if they included the English in it, Scotland would be independent by now.

            And, Scotland, I’m sorry to say (I’d love to see them independent) would have a massive problem if it goes independent, because the amount of trade it does with England just overwhelms anything it can do with the EU quickly. So Scotland would be in a really bad position with the England re trade treaty. And, if it got into the EU quickly, it would open the EU markets, but made the English ones harder to access.

            Sort of like the England and the US execpt the other way.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Yes, well, I won’t repeat myself (well, I’m repeating myself), but I’ve always thought Scotland would get independence via English nationalism, not Scottish nationalism. I think English nationalism is a very underrated force in Brexit and much recent UK politics.

              I think Scottish independence would be very difficult economically, although Scotland would have a number of cards to play, not least the little matter of somewhere to put the nuclear subs and all that English owned property (and what remains of North Sea oil). Maybe someone could correct me, but I think in the event of Scottish independence Scotland would have somewhat more stronger position in any negotiation than the UK does over Brexit.

              Although those with a long knowledge of history should be aware of the economic history of Ireland, whereby the already struggling Irish economy was kneecapped in the 1920’s after independence by differential taxes which encouraged most Irish companies to migrate to the UK. This was made worse of course by a stupid economic war started by Ireland in the 1930’s, which unsurprisingly didn’t end well.

              You can of course make the argument that the Republic has done better in the long term than Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland, but it took well over half a century to manage that.

              1. vlade

                I’m not sure how much better it would be.

                The issues, as you say, are the nuclear subs – but that can be sold as making investment in Portsmouth/Plymouth (which is what was looked at). Yes, they are not as sheltered and nice as Clyde, but does it matter? And would be bringing jobs down south. So I don’t think it’s as much a lever as it was before. David might have a better view on this though.

                English owned property – don’t think that would be a problem, if you do, why?

                North Sea oil – most of it (and gas) is gone, the price is low, and investment needed to get out the rest are high. Aberdeen suffered a lot – not just this year, but the last few.

                So I don’t really think Scotland would have that many levers.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  The nuclear sub issue can be dealt with, but it would be incredibly expensive (and no doubt would raise a lot of opposition in the Plymouth area). With regard to property, I was thinking of all those estates owned by very influential Tories (not to mention the Queen).

                  In Ireland after independence, big landholdings were bought out at more or less face value (aided by very low land prices at the time).

                  1. vlade

                    Well, the nuclear subs – it depends. It would bring in a lot of (well paying) jobs, at a time that jobs are scarce. That makes people reconsider.

                    Re property – why would they have to sell? And even if Scots would decide to abolish the monarchy, again, why would they have to sell? The UK citizens owning land in the EU are not forced to…

            2. LowellHighlander

              And, if Scotland achieves Independence, why couldn’t Scotland seek a trading relationship with China? Wouldn’t China jump at the chance to screw London royally? [I hear that the Chinese leaders will Never forget the Opium Wars.]

              1. vlade

                How exactly?

                Moreover, one of the strongest correlations in economy is between the distance and trade. The closer your partner (physically) the more trade you do. I doubt China would have any major interest in a trade deal with Scotland.

                1. LowellHighlander

                  Perhaps food (especially meat).

                  It seems to me that China will not soon forget the 200 years of Humiliation during which London possessed Hong Kong. Thus, any food that China can import from Scotland would be food that England cannot. And, given the moronic inconsideration that governments in London have given to agricultural policy, I think it possible that China might be able to swing such a deal (if it were so inclined) before London could react.

                  1. vlade

                    China has plenty of levers on the UK (or rUK) should the UK be alone and China wanted to have any.

                    So it can have any UK’s agri deal it wants regardless whether Scotland is independent or not.

                    Moreover, Scotland expressed its wish to join the EU ASAP (in case of independence), so it could not do its own deals with China.

                    1. Alex Cox

                      For Scotland to become independent it will need its own currency or the Euro, and a hard border with customs & immigration controls.

                      This is not impossible, but has any work been done on it?

      2. Anonymous 2

        Thank you PK. I hope you are right.

        What happens in this scenario?

        Trump is reelected.

        The UK denounces the Withdrawal Agreement, blaming the EU for failing to give the UK a free trade deal. It implements the IM Bill (by then an Act).

        The ROI has to put up border facilities on or near the border in Ireland to defend the Single Market.

        The UK claims the ROI has broken the GFA so it is no longer effective.

        Trump announces that given the end of the GFA it is no longer an obstacle to a US/UK deal.

        Fox News goes into overdrive, calling for a deal and denouncing the EU.

        Does Congress still hold firm? I hope so but am not 100% confident.

        This scenario requires a lot of deceit, propaganda and skullduggery but that is par for the course where Brexit is concerned.

        Am I alone in suspecting Murdoch is behind a lot of this?

        1. vlade

          House is Democratic, so it will hold against Trump almost on principle (and hide behind Irish). Any trade deal has to be approved the House. Unless Trump was willing to make some major concessions (which would be a first) to the Dem House, I can’t see that happening.

          Moreover, on purely political basis, the longer the US leaves the UK to stew w/o any trade deal, the more leverage (up to a certain point, of course) it will have. Not that it really needs any, as with a few exceptions (China, EU), US trade negotiation consists of “Here’s the pen, here’s the dotted line. Don’t like it? Come back when you do.”

        2. Tom Doak

          It’s not Trump you should worry about. Biden will wave it all through if it is good for the neoliberal powers that be.

          The House loves trade deals!

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            You haven’t been paying attention. Ireland has much more support in Congress than the UK does. Pelosi has already said, “Mess with the GFA and you can kiss your US trade deal goodbye.” And that’s not just a Dem view, there’s even R support for Ireland.

  3. Sound of the Suburbs

    I can’t remember which book it was in now.
    “Democracy in Chains” or “The Shock Doctrine”
    Two of the most depressing books I have ever read. Once you realise just how all pervasive neoliberalism is, the urge to just give up is almost over whelming.

    Anyway, a lot of these international agreements are just about locking things down so they are at a level that makes them very difficult for national democracies to change.
    The free trade agreement is championed in the media.
    All the nasties you have just signed up to are never mentioned.

  4. John A

    Just a general question that someone may, or may not be able to make an educated guess. There have been voices from the US, including Pelosi saying that any hard border or changes to the Good Friday Agreement on account of a hard no deal Brexit, will mean the US wont make a trade deal with Britain.
    Is this likely or just bluster?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There is little doubt that Ireland has what amounts to a veto over any deal (at least as things stand at the present). A lot of politicians in the US – mostly Democrats, but also quite a few Republicans – were very personally invested in the GFA. And of course plenty look over their shoulder at the Irish American lobby/vote, which while much smaller than it was, is also quite significant for quite a few pols. Trump of course, also has major investments in Ireland (south).

      The question for any politician is what they’d gain from a UK/US deal which was seen as exacerbating problems in Ireland. I think for the majority it would not be seen as politically worth sticking their necks out for. I doubt if even Trump would see it as really worth much, unless it was an exceptionally good deal for US business. And any deal that was blatantly one sided would be highly problematic for the Tories, who would at least want to pretend it was a deal between equals.

  5. LowellHighlander

    I think we must also look at the problem here from a more fundamental viewpoint. These mammoth [U.S.] corporations are being given all kinds of rights, domestically and internationally, without corresponding responsibilities. Thus, campaigners who see the dangers of these “free-trade” agreements might want to start demanding that corporations whose actions result in deaths of innocents – whether owing to environmental damage, unsafe working conditions, faulty consumer products, or barring access to needs such as clean water – should face the death penalty, just as persons from the U.S. who kill [when they cross State lines] would. Otherwise, there can be no “free-trade” agreements.

  6. sprite

    How can you possibly have meaningful democracy without national sovereignty? The point of democracy is citizen control of the government (self-rule by the masses), but if the national government isn’t sovereign, then you can’t possibly have meaningful self-rule by the masses even if they control the national government through voting.

    1. Zamfir

      “How can you possibly have meaningful democracy without national sovereignty?”

      The same as any foreign policy issue. You vote for what your government will aim to achieve on the international stage. And you accept that they might not achieve everything they set out for, even if the goverment has strong domestic backing.

      Sovereignty is not magic – if other countries don’t go along, you still don’t get what you voted for

      You can square this circle if your country is very powerful. Then you can vote on what your country will do, and also on what you will make other countries do. That is true sovereignity. But that is hardly an option for most people.

  7. Wally

    Any and every human interchange that brings mutual benefit involves compromise.
    It is amazing to see how far politics in some countries has strayed from the realities of life.

    1. Clive

      Yes, there has to be order and structure and rules. But if I’m defining rules and they are taken to extremes, this can lead to zealotry, self-righteousness, and the urge to establish absolute guidelines for all to follow.

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