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Liam Fox's fantasy Brexit plan: dodgy trade deals and a race to the bottom on workers’ rights

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Workers deserve a Brexit deal that delivers for them – not a hard Brexiteer fantasy that will put jobs, services and workers' rights at risk
 International Trade Secretary Liam Fox delivers a speech on the future of exports from the UK after Brexit, on August 21, 2018
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox dreams of a 'Global Britain' - but what will that mean for UK workers? (Credit: Getty/Leon Neal

Brexit fantasist-in-chief Liam Fox is at it again.

Just a few weeks ago it emerged that the Trade Secretary’s so-called ‘Global Britain’ vision for Brexit would lead a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and environmental standards.

Now he’s running a consultation on the kind of trade deals the UK could strike with the US, Australia and New Zealand after Brexit – and on a plan for the UK to join a transpacific trade deal involving 11 Pacific Rim countries.

Yes, despite the fact that the UK is pretty far from the Pacific Ocean, the department in charge of international trade thinks we will become a successful trading nation by joining the Comprehensive Progressive Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The TUC has submitted evidence to this consultation to expose the lies behind the hard Brexiteer fantasy that doing trade deals with non-EU countries could substitute a good deal with the EU.

And we’re clear that leaving the customs union and single market is not in working people’s interests.

No substitute for EU trade

No matter how confidently Fox says it, trade deals with the rest of the world cannot make up for the loss in trade and jobs that would result from a bad Brexit deal.

Millions of jobs depend on the tariff and barrier-free trade with the EU that our membership of the single market and customs union guarantees.

If the UK leaves both – as the government has pledged – these jobs will be at risk.

That’s because we trade far less with other countries than with the EU.

Last year, UK exports to the EU amounted to £235 billion – over double what we exported to the US and almost 30 times more than our exports to Australia. As for New Zealand, it received only 0.2% of UK exports in goods and services.

Risks to workers’ rights

The trade deals we sign with non-EU countries are also very unlikely to contain the legal guarantees for high standards of employment rights that single market membership currently offers UK workers.

Deals such as CPTPP could instead seriously threaten workers’ rights and other protections because it includes countries such as Vietnam, where independent trade unions are forbidden by law.

The TUC shares the concerns of unions in CPTPP countries that the deal has no effective independent mechanism to penalise countries that abuse workers’ rights.

We’re also worried about the threat to rights if ministers rush into a deal with the US just to prove they can negotiate trade deals with prestigious partners after Brexit.

We already know that the Trump administration is planning to exploit the UK’s weakness to reduce what US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called the “unnecessary divergences in regulations and standards that many of our companies…face”.

Since UK employment rights are far higher than those found in the US, it’s likely that employment standards would be in the firing line in any future trade deal.

Threats to public services - and democracy

Deals like CPTPP would also expose public services to further privatisation.

It takes the ‘negative list’ approach, which means that any services not explicitly exempted will be opened to further privatisation.

And as the US, Australia and New Zealand have all recently signed up to trade deals that take this approach to service listing, the risks for the UK are clear.

Democratic decision-making would also be under threat if the UK joined CPTPP.

It contains the notorious Investor-State Dispute Settlement court system, which allows companies to sue government for actions that threaten their profits such as increases in the minimum wage.

Trade unions across the world have condemned the use of ISDS-style courts in trade agreements.

Workers need a voice

‘Global Britain’ is not about getting the best trade deals for UK workers, but about creating a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and standards to help multinational companies boost their profits.

If we’re to stop this happening, workers need to have a seat at the negotiating table.

That’s why the TUC is united with trade unions in the US, Australia, New Zealand and across CPTPP countries in calling for trade negotiations to involve unions from the start.

And why we’re calling on the government to ensure that we get a Brexit deal that delivers for working people – not a dodgy trade deal with the likes of Trump.

If it doesn’t, workers will know who to blame.

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