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03 February 2020

Financial Times: The challenges facing UK-US trade talks

The optimistic statements over a speedy US-UK trade deal mask concerns that disagreements between London and Washington in areas ranging from trade itself to security are clouding the launch of the negotiations.

While both Donald Trump, the US president, and Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, have pointed to a sweeping bilateral trade deal as one of the biggest prizes of Britain’s departure from the EU, the talks may struggle to rapidly yield the comprehensive pact that the two leaders had imagined. 

The biggest strain between the two countries — over Huawei’s access to Britain’s 5G networks — came to the forefront last week, as London decided to give the Chinese telecommunications company a limited role in building out its platforms, despite the White House’s desire for it to be shut out. 

“Certainly from a tone perspective, it’s not a great way to start,” said Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow in the Center on the US and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

The two longtime allies have also been increasingly at odds over London’s planned digital services tax, the Trump administration’s threats of more tariffs on automotive imports and the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal — all areas in which Britain has been more aligned with European capitals than it has with Washington. [...]

For Mr Johnson, a trade pact with the US offers an opportunity to show the opportunities of Brexit, even though the government’s own internal estimates suggest that any gains would be negligible. Yet the symbolism of a deal appears more important to Downing Street than the economic reality.

Many Conservative MPs, including the prime minister, see themselves as Atlanticists rather than Europeans and talk up a deal with Mr Trump over an agreement with the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner. Liam Fox, who served as international trade secretary under former prime minister, Theresa May, described a UK-US agreement as a “big prize”.

Ms Sloat said that on a “macro level” an agreement was still in the “interest” of both governments. But she warned that there were also “a lot of things in the bilateral relationship that are going to make it more complicated”.

For all his effusiveness, Mr Pompeo last week refused to put any firm timeline on a possible deal and cautioned that the talks could well get testy. “Sure, it’ll be complicated. And there’ll be places that will be very contentious. Both negotiating teams will want to preserve things for their own country,” he said in an interview on the LBC radio channel. [...]

Full article on Financial Times (subscription required)


© Financial News

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