Britain’s hopes for post-Brexit US trade deal hinge on workers’ rights | International trade
Britain’s hopes for a favorable post-Brexit trade deal with the US could be undermined by the government’s lack of commitment to workers’ rights, unions have warned.
As a second round of talks between the US and Britain begins this week, union leaders from both countries said Washington will push for a “worker-centric approach to trade” to help reach a deal.
The TUC and AFL-CIO, the largest union federations in Britain and the US, accused Boris Johnson’s government of failing to recognize the importance of workers’ rights and said a change of course was urgently needed.
It comes as ministers push to build new relationships around the world after leaving the EU, with a US trade deal seen as a key goal for the government as it seeks to show the benefits of Brexit.
After a dialogue on the future of Atlantic trade opened in Baltimore last month, talks continue this week in Aberdeen and London between UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
At the first round of meetings, Trevelyan pledged that she would “strengthen protection of workers’ rights and the environment” and “fight forced labor worldwide.”
But union leaders in the US and UK said the UK government had too often gotten into deals with unsavory regimes that failed to respect basic human and workers’ rights.
The government had promised union representatives a role in powerful post-Brexit trade advisory groups, which will be consulted on negotiations. However, the TUC warned that its candidates for the posts had not yet been confirmed by ministers, meaning unions had no place at the table.
In a joint statement, the two groups, representing more than 17 million workers, called on the US and UK governments to work together to protect employment standards.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said the UK government has plunged into post-Brexit negotiations with countries that “easily violate fundamental human and labor rights”, such as Colombia and Turkey.
“Trade deals can raise labor standards, promote decent work and reduce inequalities around the world. But the UK government has made too many deals that make working people worse off,” she said.
“Enough is enough. It’s time for a truly worker-centred approach to trade. That means we consult meaningfully with unions and act on our concerns. Only then is the US government likely to consider closer trade ties with the UK.”
Eric Gottwald, trade policy expert at the AFL-CIO, said: “For too long, the voices of working people have been excluded from trade negotiations or discussions. We need the TUC and its unions around the table to shape a fair deal that will raise wages and standards on both sides of the Atlantic.”
The groups said that in recent years, under the Joe Biden administration, the US has increasingly included protections for workers’ rights in trade negotiations, including the recent deal between the US, Mexico and Canada.
The leaders said that as a result of union involvement in the USMCA negotiations, the agreement contained “one of the strongest labor rights enforcement chapters ever agreed,” with the possibility of introducing sanctions against companies that abuse workers’ rights.
A Department for International Trade spokesman said: “Unions attended the first UK-US Trade Dialogue in Baltimore last month and tomorrow the TUC General Secretary will address the plenary session of the second Dialogue we are hosting in Aberdeen.
“The UK has a strong trade relationship with the US, worth over £200 billion a year and through our trade dialogues together we can present a broader and even more ambitious trade agenda.
“We are committed to listening to unions and a wide range of voices to ensure our trade policy is successful across the UK.”