Theresa May’s trade strategy threatens British workers

Trump and hard Brexit are bad news for Britain


In a momentous week when Donald Trump dumped the Trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) and told Theresa May that Brexit would be a ‘wonderful thing’ for Britain, and would open the door to a new trade deal, other EU countries were eyeing up the opportunities.

While May started cobbling together potential trade deals with the USA and Turkey – something they can’t do until the ink is dry on the Brexit divorce papers – Germany seized the moment.

Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately began by putting down a marker to May making it clear the EU would seek new trade agreements with other countries – probably the eleven Pacific Rim nations looking to do a deal with the USA which are now cast adrift.

“We live from interdependence,” said Merkel. “We’re banking on free, fair trade around the world.”

She quoted the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), saying that such deals brought more opportunities than risks. CETA still needs approval from the European Parliament and could face a continuing rough ride from MEPs.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel backed up Merkel, saying Germany and the EU should be prepared to fill the void created by Trump’s cancellation of TPP.

German State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance Thomas Steffen went further and said the EU should nail down twelve free trade deals with countries such as China and Australia as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the US and UK trade union umbrella bodies, the AFL-CIO and the TUC, issued a joint statement on trade agreements, saying:

“We would welcome a realistic trade agreement between the US and the UK after Brexit, but it needs to benefit British and American workers, not multinational corporations or foreign investors.

And it needs to foster globally recognised worker protections – rights American workers want and British workers don’t want to lose.”

It goes on:

“We want our governments to work together to promote decent jobs, high skills and good wages.

That must mean industrial strategies and investment aimed at creating more and better jobs, giving working people a voice at work, and boosting wages that have stagnated or fallen for too long.

What’s good for British and American workers is good for the US and the UK.”

And Workers Uniting, the global union formed of the United Steelworkers (USW) in the USA and Canada and Unite in the UK and Ireland, said May’s drive for a ‘hard Brexit’ had ‘dramatically altered the global political and trading environment in which workers and trade unions will need to operate’.

Workers Uniting, headed by Unite’s Len McCluskey and the Steelworkers Leo Gerard, said it was ‘becoming extremely concerned by the increasing talk of a ‘fast track’ trade deal between the US and the UK’.

Both USW and Unite are strong opponents of the CETA, TTIP and TPP trade deals,

“which were designed to enhance protections for corporations at the expense of workers, and weaken the ability of countries to protect the health and welfare of their citizens.”

The concern is that, shut out from other deals, May would try to get a seat at the table should Trump try to re-negotiate the discredited NAFTA Free Trade Deal with Canada and Mexico. US unions know what ‘fast track’ means – a deal being rammed through Congress with no line-by-line scrutiny.

May has boxed herself in. With few experienced trade negotiators and the loss of Sir Ivan Rogers, her chief negotiator, she has fewer options than she did before she met Trump  – and before she even sits down at the table with Merkel and Co.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

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2 Responses to “Theresa May’s trade strategy threatens British workers”

  1. Craig Mackay

    This is very important, and highlights the importance of these trade deals for workers and workers rights. There is a great deal of naïveté amongst the Brexiteers about negotiating trade agreements. So many of the countries “queueing up” are already at loggerheads with the UK about what such agreements might include. There is more about this at:

  2. Janine Docherty

    Theresa May referring to CETA as an example of a good deal is unbelievably foolish given that it will have implications for the UK for up to 20 years after Brexit. This is not the “taking back control” the leave campaign and now the Tory government claimed it was.

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