Adam Marshall, director general of British Chambers of Commerce, says a rushed deal could put UK companies at risk of takeover by US predators.
A headlong rush into a “politically attractive” trade deal with the US risks exposing British companies to hostile takeovers and handing American firms the upper hand, one of Britain’s leading business figures has warned.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said he was “distinctly uneasy” about the idea of a swift free-trade deal. Writing in the Observer, he called on the government to focus on small “quick wins” to free up trade between Britain and the US. He said the pressing need is for a deal with the EU.
His warning came as Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, prepares to travel to the US on Monday to begin talks about a possible deal. There are already concerns among trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic over the prospects of a quick deal, with calls for far more details to be released about the areas being considered for inclusion in the agreement. However, tackling some of the smaller barriers to trade is understood to be on Fox’s agenda for the trip.
Marshall said that his reservations about a US-UK free trade agreement were shared by businesses across Britain. “The US has many of the world’s toughest trade negotiators, whereas the UK has ceded policy and knowhow to the European commission for decades,” he writes. “If talks began on a US-UK deal over the coming months, I know which of the two I’d put my money on.
“There is a huge risk that UK-based firms will continue to face higher upfront costs and regulatory requirements after any agreement, leaving them at an instant disadvantage to US competitors that would suddenly have wider scope to compete in and buy up chunks of the UK market.”
He warns that a rushed deal with the US could lead to “predatory purchasing of UK firms by bigger, cash-rich US competitors”.
British unions have begun to raise concerns. Frances O’Grady, head of the TUC, said the talks were a “PR stunt for Liam Fox”. “With serious trade talks, government prepares by speaking to business and unions. But that’s not happened here,” she said. “Ministers should be focused on getting the best possible deal with the EU, rather than leaping into bed with Donald Trump.”
Len McCluskey, the Unite union boss, said: “Unite is concerned about the rush to secure a cobbled-together trade deal with Donald Trump’s administration, and to do so behind closed doors.
“Unless the government drops the secrecy and lets the public in on the terms of any trade discussions and prospective deal, then we remain deeply worried that what will emerge from Liam Fox’s discussions with the president’s team will be music to the ears of global big business but absolutely not be in the interests of ordinary people.”
A government spokesman said: “The UK-US working group is dedicated to strengthening our already strong bilateral trade and investment relationship now, and post-Brexit.
“It aims to provide certainty, continuity and increase confidence for UK and US businesses as we leave the EU, helping to inform the groundwork for any potential free trade agreement.”
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