“Let American firms run hospitals, urges free trade group”

“Ministers should allow American healthcare companies to compete with the NHS to run hospitals as part of a free-trade pact after Brexit, a think tank recommends.

The Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) said that Britain should also end its ban on imports of products such as chlorinated chicken and accept American environmental and food safety regulations as equivalent to those in the UK.

The moves, it claimed, would help clear the way for a UK-US trade deal that would “rewrite the rules” of global commerce and allow Britain to take advantage of trade freedoms offered by Brexit. The IFT has received backing from Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, and Boris Johnson.

The report, edited by Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP, was partly written by the trade lawyer Shanker Singham who has been consulted on free trade by Dr Fox, David Davis, Steve Baker and other ministers since the referendum.

Its conclusions will fuel suspicions that the think tank is being used as an “outrider” to align Britain with America on standards to secure a trade deal that would not be possible if the government signs a Chequers-style agreement with the EU.

The report, which was published simultaneously in London and Washington, was a collaboration between the IFT and the libertarian US think tank the Cato Institute.

It calls for Britain and the US to negotiate the most ambitious agreement ever that would allow British and American companies to compete on a level playing field in each other’s markets across both goods and services. Both countries should accept each other’s regulations on safety and environmental standards and open up all government procurement contracts to both sides.

It also suggests that any British or American citizen should be able to work in both jurisdictions if they have secured a job. It is the group’s proposals to open up the NHS to competition that is likely to prove the most contentious.

Daniel Ikenson, one of the report’s editors, described the NHS as an “incumbent” healthcare provider that should have competition. “The purpose of liberalising trade is to expose incumbent businesses to competition, including healthcare providers,” he added.

A Department for International Trade spokesman said: “We are currently seeking a wide range of views about four potential free-trade agreements, including with the USA, and we encourage all interested organisations and members of the public to make their voices heard through our online consultations.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

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