Have you ever been to America? Had a chicken salad? Hot dog? Burger? Banana split? The lot? Lived to tell the tale?
Sure you did. Like millions of Americans every day, you will have ingested the dreaded chlorinated chicken, hormonally treated pork or beef, or genetically modified cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Such is their ubiquity in precursor crops such as soy beans, yeast and vegetable oils, it is practically impossible to avoid such things, even if you’re a vegan or pure-food enthusiast.
Soon all this will arrive here in Britain. Some of us don’t give a cluck about it; but we all – and especially wishful thinking Brexiteers such as Michael Gove – need to understand that chlorinated chicken is on a flightpath to these shores. With its hormonally bloated pig and cloned sheep allies, it represents an organic invasion of these islands greater than anything since rattus norvegicus jumped ship centuries ago.
If we want to make a success of Brexit – and if it really is coming, who doesn’t? – then the British will need at least two things. First, a big trade deal with the world’s largest economy, the United States. Second, to stop being such fussy eaters.
The second necessarily follows from the first, because the American economy is 10 times the size of the UK’s, and because they are led by a thug who’d rather not trade with anyone at all.
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A few days ago, a document emerged from the White House which gives us a pretty clear idea of what is going to be on our plates, metaphorically and literally, for the next few years. The innocuous sounding 2018 National Trade Estimate is a handy guide to what the US is demanding from each and every trade partner. Predictably, it is extremely long, even in summary form. The particularly ill-tempered section whinging about the European Union is especially relevant, and will make uncomfortable reading for some who think the Americans will be giving us a hand for sentimental reasons post-Brexit.
First, we’ll have to take the chlorinated chicken, the genetically modified wheat, cloned meat and beef stuffed full of hormones – or we’ll be stuffed if we want to sell the Americans our steel, Range Rovers, Jaguars, Rolls-Royce aero engines, armaments, banking and other services. With an inevitable loss of trade and markets in Europe, we will have little choice – if we wish to retain living standards – but to submit to what the US demands.
But even if we agree to import all this stuff, we don’t have to buy it, do we (you may ask)? We can just buy British or “farm assured”, surely?
Yes and no. The US objects to COOL (“Country of Origin Labelling”) as it can refer to “country of birth, fattening, and slaughter of animals; country of milking, packaging, or processing for dairy products; and country of cultivation and processing for wheat”.
So post-Brexit, chances are you’ll be shopping blind, unable to avoid genetically modified American “cheddar”, even if you wanted to.
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In a way, this is the ultimate free trade rule, so even national chauvinism is not allowed to pollute consumer preferences in taste, price and the rest. By the way, in the same vein, the Americans would also demand that we abolish the geographic protections we’d like to preserve, including with the EU. I can’t myself object to Californian ‘Champagne’, or a Minnesota Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, or a Connecticut Cornish Pasty, but I think Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg might not want to swallow those.
Second, under a UK-US deal American firms will even be allowed to distil whiskey (or “whisky”) without any of the boring traditional rules about ageing. Not good news for producers in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Maybe they’ll let the British produce “bourbon” and “sour mash” in return.
Next on the menu: yes – a nice cloned Sunday spring roast. It is no longer Arthur C Clarke stuff. “The United States believes the use of cloning technologies are beneficial for herd improvement and that no differences have been demonstrated in terms of food safety between food products produced from cloned animals or their offspring and those produced from conventionally bred animals,” so the 2018 US National Trade Estimate states. Eat up your all-American unconventionally bred leg of lamb, Brits.
Overall, American demands from the EU on free trade are spread over 40 pages of wide-ranging and technical, but crucial, text. As an EU member, they affect the UK now – and in the future if the UK carries on aligning with single market rules by agreement – and they extend far beyond the symbolic chlorinated chicken.
The Americans object to EU policies on pesticides, on pharmaceuticals, on cosmetics, on “news aggregators” such as Facebook (designed to protect news organisations such as this one by the way) on car safety and emissions standards and much else.
Any deeper trade or economic engagement with a foreign entity requires give and take, and it means economic change and adjustment and indeed pain. When the Great Transatlantic Trade Deal is signed it might mean cheaper chicken sandwiches and burgers, but it’ll come at a price.
It is true we are sovereign. We can say no to all this cloned, genetically modified, drugged and injected food if we want, but the Americans will feel no obligation to make it easier for us to sell them our goods and services.
As we found with the EU, similarly we need the US more than they need us: the Americans earn about 12 per cent of their national income from international trade, being a huge integrated continental economy.
By contrast Little Britain depends on exports for 30 per cent of GDP. A general global trade war, Brexit and a failed transatlantic trade deal with the United States would constitute a catastrophe. The US is virtually self-sufficient by comparison with the UK, and hence Trump’s insouciance about a trade war.
If you think Michel Barnier is a bit of a bastard, just wait till you meet the Yanks. We might just have to swallow our pride, among other things, rather like Stormy Daniels supposedly did during her encounter with Donald Trump. And it will be him spanking our ass this time.