Britain is due to leave the EU in 25 days, while the promise of bilateral US-UK trade agreements brings more concern than promise.
President Donald Trump has referred to himself as ‘Mr. Brexit’ while visiting the UK last July and expressed his utmost support for PM Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations. At a press conference given during his visit, Trump said he “cherish[ed] the ‘special relationship’ the US and UK have”, and promised the UK “the best trade deals” following the latter’s divorce from the EU.
Despite praising May in front of the cameras, however, the US President torched the PM’s negotiating efforts in a private interview, saying that “a soft Brexit would probably end a major trade relationship with the United States.”
He also added that he did not share the PM’s views and approaches regarding EU negotiations: “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route. In fact, she probably went the opposite way.”
The difference between the President’s face-to-face comments and the views expressed in this interview became a cause for controversy. Additionally, Trump made similar controversial remarks about London’s mayor, and his visit was met with mass protests in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Nevertheless, the overall lingering message of the trip was that the UK was due to ally itself ever closer with the United States.
On March 1, however, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has outlined its expectations for a post-Brexit US-UK agreement by presenting a 15-page document, including a demand for “comprehensive market access”, “duty-free access for US textile and apparel products”, and the establishment of “a mechanism to remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of US food and agricultural products.”
The last clause was part of the section titled ‘Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures’, which sparked concerns due to a possible request for the lowering of UK food standards. This was primarily manifested in the revival of the chlorine-washed poultry debate, a practice which is widespread in the US but has been banned in the EU since 1997.
Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s official spokesman, meanwhile, said on March 1: “We have been clear we will not lower food standards as part of future trade deals.”
The USTR document also includes an objective to “increase opportunities for US firms to sell US products and services to the UK” under government procurement contracts.
Furthermore, at a press conference held last week, Trump lauded the “very special relationship” he holds with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un – the phrase the President usually reserved to denote US-UK relationships. His summit with the North Korean leader subsequently collapsed in Hanoi last week, leading to no denuclearization agreement being reached.
Tim Oliver, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughborough University of London, said it is clear that there is no ‘special relationship’ in the cards when it comes to US-UK trade negotiations.
“The U.K.-U.S. special relationship can point to strong and very large economic links, but that doesn’t mean — and never has meant — any U.S. president, or more importantly Congress, would simply give the U.K. what it wants or cut it favors unless it serves the U.S. national interest.
“Anybody in the U.K. involved in U.K.-U.S. trade negotiations who believes the U.S. will cut the U.K. a good deal out of sentimental love for the U.K. is naive and dangerous,” he said.