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US-Britain trade talks must cease until pandemic is over, charities urge

BRITAIN’S trade talks with the United States must be put on hold until the coronavirus crisis is over, charities and campaign groups said today.

The 17 organisations also condemned the secrecy surrounding the talks, which puts them beyond parliamentary scrutiny.

On Monday, a US trade representative said that “the United States and the United Kingdom are committed to starting trade negotiations as soon as possible.”

But the group, led by the Trade Justice Movement, Global Justice Now and the Sustain Alliance, said it would be inappropriate for talks to continue while both countries were in full or partial lockdown.

In a letter to the UK government, the groups also warned against continuing talks as Parliament closed for Easter a week early.

Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny said: “These trade talks should not be happening behind closed doors or on video conferences, in the middle of a global health crisis.

“The UK government needs to do the right thing and put them on hold until the pandemic is under control.”

Global Justice Now campaigns and policy manager Jean Blaylock pointed out that trade negotiations are “notoriously secretive” as it is, “sewing up deals behind closed doors that affect our lives.

“Even so, it is astounding that Boris Johnson's government is planning to go ahead with negotiations with the US during a global pandemic and all-encompassing crisis,” she said.

“With everyone in lockdown and Parliament closing, there is no-one to hold negotiators to account. The trade negotiations should be halted now.”

Trade Justice Movement senior political advisor David Lawrence said: “Now is not the time to be pushing ahead with controversial trade talks between the UK and the US, especially when the government has failed to reassure those who are concerned about the impact a US trade deal could have on our environmental policy, food standards and health services.

“All new trade deals must receive full parliamentary and public scrutiny, and it is difficult to see how that can be achieved when Parliament has risen and the entire country is on lockdown.”

The letter’s other signatories are Baby Milk Action Network, Compassion in World Farming, CHEM Trust, Friends of the Earth, Nurses United UK, Open Rights Group, Pesticide Action Network UK, RSPCA, Soil Association, STOPAIDS, SumOfUs, Traidcraft Exchange, War on Want and We Own It.

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