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NHS ‘off the table’ in US trade talks, as UK publishes negotiating objectives

Trade Secretary Liz Truss maintained a tough stance ahead of the negotiations.

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The document predicts a free trade agreement could ‘potentially’ create an increase in trade with the US of £15.3 billion (Ian Nicholson/PA)

The document predicts a free trade agreement could ‘potentially’ create an increase in trade with the US of £15.3 billion (Ian Nicholson/PA)

The document predicts a free trade agreement could ‘potentially’ create an increase in trade with the US of £15.3 billion (Ian Nicholson/PA)

The NHS will not be on the table during post-Brexit trade talks with the United States, the UK has spelled out, as it published negotiating objectives for a deal.

Ministers were also committing to “ensure high standards” and protections were maintained for consumers and workers, while “not compromising” on environmental, animal welfare and food standards.

The 184-page document published by the Department for International Trade on Monday predicts that a free trade agreement (FTA) could “potentially” create an increase in trade with the US of approximately £15.3 billion in the long term.

UK negotiators would work to ensure that measures are in place to prevent hikes in medicine prices for the NHS, as the Government said the service “will not be on the table”.

“The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic,” the document said.

The Government acknowledged public concerns about US meat, particularly chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.

“Throughout the agreement, ensure high standards and protections for UK consumers and workers and build on our existing international obligations,” the document said.

“This will include not compromising on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

Trade Secretary Liz Truss maintained a tough stance ahead of the negotiations, warning the UK will “strike (a) hard bargain” and is prepared to “walk away if we need to”.

Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, welcomed the publication, adding: “Lots of work to do – let’s get started.”

In a summary of responses received in the consultation, respondents were concerned that “the UK’s current food and product standards should be maintained and not negatively impacted by an FTA with the US”.

“Respondents identified the importance of maintaining what they saw as the UK’s current high food and product standards,” the document said.

“For food standards, this included ensuring that any FTA with the US supported robust sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions and high levels of animal welfare protection.

“Concerns were raised around US food standards in a number of areas, including use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), “hormone-fed or injected beef”, over-use of pesticides, “chlorine-washed chicken” and levels of preservatives or additives.

“For both food and product standards, respondents also noted potential opportunities to reduce UK-US trade barriers by harmonising standards/levels of protection or through mutual recognition, as long as UK standards are maintained and there is continued alignment with the EU.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged to “drive a hard bargain to boost British industry” in the talks, which will take place alongside negotiations with the EU.

Talks in Brussels were to get under way on Monday, when the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost was to meet the team led by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Downing Street had been urged by trade union leaders not to “cosy up” to US President Donald Trump during the talks, with the PM being urged to block any US manoeuvring to lower food standards.

Ministers have repeatedly faced demands to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the US in any deal, with animal welfare and environmental concerns raised.

Crawford Falconer, the Department for International Trade’s chief trade negotiation adviser, will oversee talks with Washington on the UK side.

Negotiating rounds will alternate between the UK and US.

PA