Brit pushes for U.S. trade ac­cord

Fi­nance, agri­cul­ture fo­cus as U.K. gears up to leave EU

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JILL WARD

LON­DON — Re­mov­ing com­mer­cial bar­ri­ers with the U.S. could gen­er­ate an ad­di­tional $52 bil­lion in trade with the U.K. by 2030, Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox said Sun­day as he warned that reach­ing a deal won’t be easy.

Fox, in Wash­ing­ton for pre­lim­i­nary talks on a U.S. trade agree­ment af­ter the U.K. leaves the Eu­ro­pean Union, said the pro­jected eco­nomic gain is based on re­cent gov­ern­ment cal­cu­la­tions. Economists and trade spe­cial­ists say any deal will be hard to de­liver, since the Amer­i­cans have more ex­pe­ri­ence and could bull­doze the U.K. on is­sues such as agri­cul­tural and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion.

“It will be a dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sion, but we’ve got great sup­port from the United States and the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Fox said on the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show on Sun­day. “Agri­cul­ture’s al­ways a very dif­fi­cult is­sue” but “we’ll want to look at a whole range of other things, on fi­nan­cial ser­vices for ex­am­ple, and other parts of the ser­vice econ­omy,” he said.

The U.K. is al­ready view­ing a pact as a way for Lon­don-based banks to se­cure easy ac­cess to Wall Street, which might re­quire the U.K. to ac­cept weaker rules on fi­nan­cial ser­vices less than a decade af­ter global fi­nan­cial mar­kets col­lapsed. The U.S. also could de­mand looser san­i­tary rules on food, such as al­low­ing hor­mone-treated beef to be sold in Bri­tain.

The U.K. can’t sign trade deals with other coun­tries un­til it leaves the Eu­ro­pean Union in March 2019, but can pre­pare the ground­work for ac­cords to be rat­i­fied soon af­ter. Many of the same is­sues the EU and U.S. ex­pe­ri­enced in at­tempt­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a trade deal could resur­face. Those transat­lantic talks have been on hold since Don­ald Trump took power in Jan­uary, amid dif­fer­ences over data pri­vacy and the rolling back of fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion.

Also speak­ing on the BBC, op­po­si­tion La­bor Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn chal­lenged the U.K.’s will­ing­ness to strike a U.S. trade deal when Trump in­tends to with­draw the U.S. from the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change. The EU has said it won’t en­ter deals with gov­ern­ments that haven’t signed up to the ac­cord.

“That calls into ques­tion the whole of this gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy on a one-off trade deal with the United States, which sounds aw­fully like the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship to me,” Cor­byn said.

While Fox said the agenda can be pushed for­ward with the U.S., the same can’t nec­es­sar­ily be said for ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU. The sec­ond round of talks be­tween Bri­tain and the bloc ended with dis­agree­ments over the Ir­ish bor­der, the cost of the di­vorce and cit­i­zens’ rights — is­sues that must be re­solved be­fore the two sides can turn to trade.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has less than two years to se­cure her promised wide-rang­ing free trade ar­range­ment with the bloc. Many busi­nesses have urged the gov­ern­ment to set a tran­si­tion pe­riod to any new re­la­tion­ship once the al­lot­ted time for exit talks is com­pleted in March 2019.

Even the Cab­i­net’s most hard-line Bri­tish-exit sup­port­ers have been drop­ping op­po­si­tion to such a pe­riod. “I don’t think that there’s any great ide­o­log­i­cal block­age on the con­cept of a tran­si­tion or an im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod,” Fox said, back­ing away from a po­si­tion he took two weeks ago. It could be as long as 23 or 25 months, he said, and the U.K. should be al­lowed to ne­go­ti­ate new trade deals dur­ing that time.

“I think we’d have to be very clear that it was time-lim­ited, and lim­ited in scope,” he said. “I don’t think peo­ple would want to have it drag­ging on, but I think it’s per­fectly rea­son­able to have a tran­si­tion that makes it as smooth as pos­si­ble.”

On July 13, Fox said in a Bloomberg TV in­ter­view he would be “very happy” with a tran­si­tion pe­riod of just “a few months.”

The U.K. can’t sign trade deals with other coun­tries un­til it leaves the Eu­ro­pean Union in March 2019, but can pre­pare the ground­work for ac­cords to be rat­i­fied soon af­ter.

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