Woody Johnson, the US Ambassador in London openly stated on Sunday that healthcare would have to be on the table in any American-British trade talks as a result of Brexit.
We already know that US Donald Trump puts America first on the agenda so don’t believe any trade deal coming out of Washington is going to really benefit the UK.
In fact, I fear standards will slip and the first casualty in line will be our beloved National Health Service. The Tory government has already put a wrecking ball through the NHS but any US trade deal which threatens this marvellous institution must be halted.
Trump already said last year during an interview with The Daily Telegraph that he is ready to use trade talks to force the NHS to pay more for its drugs as part of his scheme to “put American patients first”.He reckons that the high costs faced by US patients are a direct result of other countries’ health services “freeloading” at America’s expense and I’m sure he will repeat his daft mantra when he arrives in London this week.
Britain is still reeling from the shambles that is Brexit and is in a highly weakened state. As the UK scrambles around in increasing desperation for trade deals it is obvious that under the bullying Trump Administration, the Americans will use plenty of muscle to push up drug prices abroad, to lower the cost paid by patients back home.
Under the present system running in the UK, prices are dictated in part by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which has been successful in securing discounts for some of the costliest drugs. This has enabled the NHS to use its own muscle power to negotiate far lower price deals than in the US which runs a series of fragmented private medical care authorities who are unable to come together as one and negotiate as one entity.
This prompted the outraged Trump to warn: “America will not be cheated any longer, and especially will not be cheated by foreign countries.” Huh! So much for the much talked about special relationship then.
The reality is Trump made an election pledge to bring down medicine prices and the only way he can do this is by making other countries pay more.
He has made no secret of the fact he wants to target the NHS and NICE as a means of shrinking costs for US consumers at the point of sale.
At the moment medicine prices in the UK are controlled unlike in America where market forces can dictate dramatic price differences.“How much the UK spends on healthcare and on medicines is a matter for the UK government and it is not clear to us how the US or any other government would influence this,” said Richard Torbett of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry last year.
The way is obvious – Trump’s trademark bullying will come in to play. Meanwhile, the US President also has an eye on our agricultural industry and high food standards. Woody Johnson had the cheek to recently described our farming methods as something from the “museum of agriculture.”
Call me old-fashioned but when I eat chicken I like to know where it has come from and how it was raised and I certainly baulk at some of the US farming methods such as chlorine-washed poultry and the feeding of hormones to livestock.
You only have to look at some of the young boys in swimming pools these days; slightly overweight and developing man boobs! This is what happens when you eat junk food which has almost certainly been injected with certain types of growth hormones.
Some unchecked farming methods, banned by a number of countries, involves injecting chickens with estrogens (a female hormone) so that they can grow bigger at a faster rate.
A few days ago the Trump administration listed a series of demands for a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, which insists on “comprehensive market access” for US agricultural products and the elimination of “unwanted barriers” to food and drink imports.
US trade representative Robert Lighthizer published an 18-page document on Friday setting out Washington’s negotiating position making it clear Trump is eager to open trade talks soon.
So far the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has the backing to remain aligned with European, not the US, agricultural and food standards after Brexit, but what will happen if, say, Boris Johnson gets the keys to Number 10?Johnson, Trump’s personal choice for PM, may well be easy meat for the persuasions of Trump over food standards.
Little surprise then that the National Farmers’ Union is concerned over its world-leading animal welfare and food safety standards.
At the moment the UK exports £18bn of food and drink every year, of which £9.4bn goes to the EU compared with £1.9bn to the United States.
It is vital we maintain safety and public confidence in the food we eat but I fear this is now in jeopardy as US lobby groups for agriculture and pharmaceutical firms muscle in for trade deals after Brexit.
The US meat lobby wants the sale of growth hormone-fed beef, currently banned in the UK and EU, to be allowed in the UK while the giant US drugs lobby pushes the NHS to buy more American drugs.
In our desperation for trade deals I dread to think what sacrifices will be made by the incoming hard Brexiteer we will get as Prime Minister.
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