UK, US extend trade talks as 2020 deal looks unlikely
LONDON: Britain said Wednesday trade talks with the United States would continue into the autumn, as hopes fade for a quick deal to coincide with London leaving the European Union’s trading regime.
The UK government said “positive progress” had been made after a recent third round of US talks and that both sides had “reaffirmed their commitment to negotiating a comprehensive and ambitious agreement”.
The Department for International Trade added the next set of formal negotiations would go ahead in September, but also conceded the coronavirus pandemic had delayed other aspects of the consultations with Washington.
Britain voted in a referendum in June 2016 to leave the EU, and – after years of political wrangling – finally quit on January 31 this year.
However, the country is currently in a standstill transition period until the end of the year as it tries to negotiate a new trade deal with Brussels.
Its formal departure from the now 27-member bloc nonetheless allowed London to start trade talks with other countries, including the US – and negotiations began in May.
Bilateral trade was worth £220.9 billion ($275 billion, 252.6 billion euros) last year, and a free trade deal could increase this by £15.3 billion over 2018 levels in the long run, according to the British government.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had reportedly hoped to wrap up a free trade deal with the US by the end of the year, to showcase as a positive sign of Britain’s post-Brexit future.
But with the US congress required to approve any comprehensive trade agreement, and presidential and congressional elections in November, it has become increasingly clear that the ambition would not be met.
Britain’s trade department said in its statement that 33 sessions were held in the latest negotiating round – which took place from July 27 to August 7 – covering 21 different areas.
“Most chapter areas are now moving into the advanced stages of talks, with particularly detailed, text-based discussions taking place on Intellectual Property,” it added. However, it noted that COVID-19 had forced both sides to postpone a separate discussion round over small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) planned to take place in Boston later this year.