In the Daily Telegraph today, Boris Johnson’s latest article is about a deal with the US that would have had Churchill beaming. It will bring Britain and Europe closer to America. The idea, says Boris, is to create a gigantic free-trade zone between the EU and the US, or a TTIP – a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It is sometimes referred to as the “Tafta” – the Transatlantic Free Trade Area.He begins: “In April 1955, the 80-year-old Winston Churchill held his last Cabinet meeting before going to offer his resignation to the Queen. He had two insights he wanted to get over. “Man is spirit,” he told his ministers, and: “Never be separated from the Americans.”
It is easy to understand his feelings about the United States. In his career, he had seen the decline of British empire, and the rise of America to global supremacy; he had seen how America had twice helped rescue Europe from disaster; and he had come to the conclusion that the best destiny for our country lay in exploiting our unique role in a series of relationships: to be at the heart of the interconnecting sets.
In Churchill’s conception, Britain should be the historical centre of the old Empire or Commonwealth; Britain should be an active and engaged and creative European power (though not necessarily subsumed into a federated system); and Britain should preserve the closest and most intricate relationship with Washington and the American people. In all the decades since, that view of Britain’s geopolitical destiny is one that has been persuasive to almost every prime minister and government, and it is surely a programme that should recommend itself to us today.
So it is all the more surprising that we have heard so little about a great project now under way. It is Churchillian, in that it builds transatlantic links; it is all about free trade; and it brings Britain and Europe closer to America. The idea is to create a gigantic free-trade zone between the EU and the US, or a TTIP – a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It is sometimes referred to as the “Tafta” – the Transatlantic Free Trade Area.
There is absolutely nothing not to like about the TTIP. As Churchill might have said, it is altogether un-sordid. And yet virtually the only commentary we have been offered is absurdly hostile and misinformed. The debate is dominated by Left-wing misery-guts anti-globalisation campaigners. They say that the EU-US free trade deal will be a ramp for all sorts of undesirable American imports: American chickens bathed in chlorine and so genetically modified as to possess three drumsticks per bird; pale and tasteless American cheese that has been processed to the point of macrobiotic extinction; vast American gas-guzzler cars with seats that have been designed specifically for the supersized American buttock. They say that the notion of mutual free investment will lead to McDonald’s being given the catering for the NHS, while JR Ewing will arrive in the Home Counties shouting yee-hah and insisting on his right to frack the place to kingdom come. The anti-TTIP panic has reached such a pitch that last week people actually demonstrated against the negotiators in London and Brussels, and across the EU.
I do not wish in any way to inflame these numskulls, but it is not just that their fears are overdone. They are talking rubbish. Almost every single objection to the current proposals is based on pure superstition. There is nothing wrong with American food, for goodness’ sake. Millions of British tourists eat the stuff with every sign of enjoyment, and whatever goes on in the American meat and poultry industry, it is no more sinister than what happens over here. Fears about genetically modified organisms are a load of semi-religious mumbo-jumbo. As for American cars, they are just as safe as European cars, and their emission standards are getting tighter the whole time.
These people who worry about TTIP should try actually living in America. Try parking your recreational vehicle outside the designated oblong in Yosemite national park or try reading the encyclopaedic information on the side of a carton of orange juice, and you will see that America is about the most regulated market on earth. If we get the TTIP agreed, it will certainly not mean the privatisation of the NHS, and nor will it mean a green light for fracking Sussex. At the very most it will mean that there is some protection against government deciding – locally, at state level, or nationally – to legislate in some arbitrary and unexpected way so as to discriminate against foreign companies. That strikes me as a very useful thing for British companies, both large and small.
This new free-trade pact with America is not a threat: it is a sensational opportunity to break down the remaining barriers to trade with the country that already takes 17 per cent of our exports – the biggest single export destination for Britain. There is a big and growing market for the aerospace sector, in which Britain is strong: many US airlines are renewing their fleets. There is the chance to build on the amazing success of British car manufacturing, with fuel-efficient cars for the top of the market. America is the home to more affluent households – with disposable income of more than $300,000 – than any other country. The US is therefore a superb market for luxury British brands. The Americans want more and more of the stuff we are good at: apps, life sciences, media, culture, you name it.
The tariff barriers between us are now low – down to 3 per cent. But it is the non-tariff barriers that need to be blown away, the fiddly stipulations that are furtively used to keep out foreign competition. If we can get the EU-US free trade pact done in the next 12 months, we will boost the British economy by about £10 billion per year, and boost the whole of the EU by £100 billion. That is not to be sneezed at – not when the eurozone is once again dangling over the lip of a downturn.
This pact is a massive potential win for humanity – the closer economic union between two vast territories that share a tradition of democracy, free speech, pluralism: the Western values that are under threat in so many other parts of the world; and where almost everyone has English as a first or second language. Trade between Europe and the US is already worth $4.7 trillion; this is the chance to go further. If the EU can’t pull it off, we in Britain should offer to go first and do it ourselves.