A free trade agreement with the US is considered a key post-Brexit prize. But the negotiations will be fraught with danger and Britain is not preparedby Alex Dean / May 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
Trade has never been in the news so much. The cause is Donald Trump. The furious tariff war between China and the US dominates headlines and its economic consequences could be profound. Meanwhile the US president has forced a renegotiation of NAFTA and is undermining parts of the World Trade Organisation. He is destabilising the entire trading system.
Yet it is against this troubling backdrop that Britain will seek to strike a trade deal with the US president. After Brexit we will, in theory, have the freedom to sign new agreements. A US deal is held up by Leavers as the ultimate prize: it is a huge market to which we could win new access. For sceptics, however, the dangers are increasingly obvious: the president boasts about putting “America first”—and other countries last.
The issue has never felt more pertinent. So should we really pursue a trade deal with Trump? What would the president ask for in return? And where does the infamous “chlorinated chicken” fit in? Having spoken to leading experts, I would argue that there are dangers ahead. Trump could demand the impossible. We are about to find out Britain’s new place in the global pecking order—and whether the “special relationship” is really so special after all.
The politicians of course are keen to signal that all is well. Last year International Trade Secretary Liam Fox wrote for a US audience: “Brexit has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise [our relationship] to a new level.” Even Trump has sounded intermittently positive. A trade working group has been established between the two countries. And as Fox pointed out when I visited his office for a wide-ranging interview in the spring, “we’ve got a strong relationship with the US” already. Trade between the two countries is worth $160bn a year. Not to mention the historic security links.
There is no shortage of general enthusiasm. Andrea Leadsom, another leading Brexiteer, previously told me a “key advantage” of Brexit “is being able to sign our own free trade deals.”
But a formal free trade deal is its own beast. To deliver greater market access there must be new negotiations. The US is an economic giant and Trump’s demands on Britain could prove very tough indeed.
For Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretary, “I don’t see any reason to believe…