Plaid Cymru urges Westminster U-turn on Customs Union membership
Details from secret trade talks between the Westminster Government and 14 other trade groups have exposed the desperation inside Whitehall and the impact that leaving the Customs Union will have on the economy and consumers.
The details emerged after a Freedom of Information request in the United States revealed details of the UK-USA talks.
The information reveals a desperate Westminster Government sent 27 members of staff from the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) with no experience of negotiating trade deals to Washington to negotiate with a 77-strong US delegation which included seasoned trade officials with decades of negotiations under their belts.
Details from the agenda reveal that the so-called trade working group with the USA discussed trade strategy, textiles and apparels, regulatory issues, industrial tariffs and agriculture. Despite the Westminster Government down-playing the significance of the controversy over chlorine-washed chicken, the working group spent two hours discussing "agriculture and SPS" (SPS referring to sanitary and phytosanitary trade issues - such as the controversies over chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-reared beef) - longer than any other sector.
The information will cause particular concern for the agriculture sector in the UK, and Welsh farmers in particular, whose market face being flooded with cheap, lower quality imports, undercutting their prices.
Plaid Cymru says the information confirms the importance of the Customs Union and has urged the Conservatives and the Labour Party to support continued membership of the existing Customs Union.
The UK's membership of the Customs Union gives all UK countries access to free trade agreements with more than 60 other countries around the world - the other Customs Union members and other countries with whom the Customs Union has a free trade agreement - negotiated collectively to improve terms. Leaving the Customs Union means losing all current free trade arrangements and negotiating new deals without the benefit of doing so jointly with our partners, inevitably meaning poorer terms for the UK.
The Government's own analysis shows that every country in the UK will be worse off if we leave the Customs Union, even if free trade agreements are signed.
Commenting, Plaid Cymru's Brexit spokesperson in Westminster, Hywel Williams MP, said:
"This perfectly illustrates why staying in the Customs Union is so important. We already have free trade arrangements with more than 60 countries thanks to our place in the Customs Union - trade agreements that were negotiated collectively, strengthening our hand and maximising the benefits for us from those trade deals.
"These details from the American trade group give us a glimpse of our future outside the Customs Union. A weak, inexperienced and desperate group of civil servants trying to strike a trade deal with markets five times bigger than ours, with experienced trade negotiators. It is simply not possible to replicate what we are able to do as part of the Customs Union, on our own.
"Clearly some sectors will be sacrificed to ensure others are protected and we need only look at Westminster's every-day priorities to see which sectors are set to lose and which will be protected. Particularly concerning is the Westminster Government's insistence on holding these talks in secret - not just in the USA but with the 14 other trade groups across the world. What are they hiding from us?
"This is why Plaid Cymru is adamant that every country in the UK should be involved in these talks, not just England, and that every country should have to sign any deals off before they are implemented, to ensure our own key sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture are protected, not just the City of London.
"Westminster's flat out refusal to treat Wales and Scotland as equals alongside England means there is only one option - for the whole of the UK to stay in the Customs Union and to maintain our strong position as a global trading bloc.
"Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party must reverse their position and make it clear that we will stay in the existing Customs Union."
The Westminster Government had previously admitted to holding secret trade talks with the following 14 groups but had refused to share any information:
- Andean Community (Peru, Colombia and Ecuador)
- Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE)
- New Zealand
- South Korea
Details from the American Freedom of Information request are available here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4106923-US-UK-Trade-Meeting-FOIA-Redacted-1.html
Letters sent between the UK and the US agreeing to keep the talks secret are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/arrangement-for-exchanging-information-during-the-uk-us-trade-and-investment-working-group