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A US-UK trade deal built on trust would set an example to the world Britain should seize the mantle of global champion of free trade

Political Insider

It’s official. We are most definitely not at the ‘back of the queue’ when it comes to a trade deal with the United States.

Actually, we’re at the front.

Well, we’re technically third if you take it in order of the letters released reecntly by Robert E. Lighthizer, the US Trade Representative, to the House of Representatives and the Senate informing them of the President’s intention to start trade talks.

The UK joins the EU and Japan as the countries and trade blocs of highest priority. The UK explicitly from when we leave the European Union and regain our powers to negotiate trade currently pooled in the Common Commercial Policy.

This is a big moment. Our largest single country trade partner (the EU as a bloc obviously has the larger share) is telling us that they want to reduce the barriers to trade our producers face, and that they want us to reduce the barriers we have put up with our European counterparts for consumers to import what they want.

It could be a big deal too. US goods and services trade with the UK totalled an estimated $235.9 billion in 2017. The UK imported $125.9 billion worth and exported goods and services worth $110.0 billion.

US companies and funds are the largest foreign direct investors in the United Kingdom, and UK ones are the largest in the United States. The value of the cumulative investment stands at nearly $1.3 trillion today. More than 1.1 million Americans work for British companies in the U.S. and nearly 1.5 million Britons are directly employed by U.S. affiliates.

Trade between the UK and US amounts to roughly one fifth of the EU’s total with the US, well above our 12.9 per cent share of the EU’s population.

A quick reminder to both British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox and US trade representative Robert E. Lighthizer: there’s no need to spend years debating and horse trading. The good fellows at the Cato Institute and the Initiative for Free Trade (along with ourselves at the Adam Smith Institute and 8 other think tanks) have done the work already.

We produced a full legal text of a draft deal between our two countries. It’s based on mutual recognition; not harmonisation, or trade-offs.

There is a reason we’re promoting this way of doing things. It’s about trust. And friends. It’s the antidote to the divisive, partisan and partitioned way politics has operated in recent years. America and Europe are not alien to one another, nor to us in the UK.

Instead of thinking that our way of doing things in Britain is exceptional – when we start planning our future trade relationship we trust our friends and allies. And why? Because we know they want the same things we want.

Back in the New Labour era, the journalist Clive James slapped down those people who had begun to bemoan the fact that socialism had gone the way of the dinosaurs:

“Two similar parties are divided only by their proposed methods of achieving the same ends, there is a sharp answer. Those are the only politics worthy of the name, and we are very lucky to live in an epoch where they prevail.”

It was, in other words, that we’d decided roughly what we wanted as a society, and that platitudes weren’t enough. In order to succeed in politics, you needed evidence-based policies. Policies had to show they achieved their ends. The debate was about whether they did achieve those ends.

The difference between parties in a democracy and trading partners is that you cannot simply elect the latter. Sometimes you can wait for their citizens to unelect them or, as in the case with the EU, you’re forced to accept static positions by removed, and weakly democratic Commission officials.

This static response has been stifling innovation in areas like agriculture; this has led the EU to accept some bizarrely anti-scientific positions. That’s the case on GMOs, on pathogen reduction treatments, on the recent CRISPR ruling, and on hormone treatments. Yes, the scary chlorine chicken. So scary that it’s akin to the levels on your prepackaged salad. Easy headline fodder, but so safe that when the Guardian’s George Monbiot tried to deride it, the paper had to issue an apology to the Adam Smith Institute.

It’s easy to understand how the harmonisation model came about. When the EU was first forming it was bringing radically different economies together. Germany and France, the Benelux and Italy. Different standards, different proposed outcomes, different political systems, languages, cultural norms. The single market dragged them together. This hasn’t stopped. The development levels of the ex-Communist countries, the accession of post-dictatorship Portugal, Spain, and Greece. Each of these states were markedly different from countries next door. Simpler to squeeze them together than accept difference.

For the US, EU and UK of today, however, the aims of each set of legislators is often the same. The same could be said of Japan, Australia, Israel and Canada. Often it’s to keep citizens safe (why we have fire retardation for clothes and sofas), to keep our environment clean (we ban pollutants), and to ensure we aren’t being poisoned (why cancerous foodstuffs are squeezed out). David Marsh might have been talking about punctuation when he said in the Guardian that “The American Way” and the “British Style” are not so different – but he hit the nail on the head for trade too.

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