Rifkind pushes for freer trade with America


Diplomatic Editor

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, will claim tomorrow that Britain is "forcing the pace in Europe" for free trade with the United States, and he will demand new moves for economic liberalisation across the Atlantic.

In a speech to be delivered in London, Mr Rifkind will place Britain at the radical end of European policy towards free trade. His message will be unwelcome to significant European partners like France, whose leaders and electorates remain unconvinced of the blessings of laissez- faire trade policies.

The speech will cautiously locate Mr Rifkind's thinking towards those on the Tory right who urge the creation of a deregulated, offshore Britain competing in the global market alongside the economic "tigers" of Asia.

Echoing the style of John Redwood, the Foreign Secretary will preach the message that "economic liberalisation begins at home" and praise the Conservative government's moves to cut taxes on business, reduce non-wage labour costs and privatise state industries.

According to a draft of his text, Mr Rifkind will acknowledge that "the seductive arguments for protectionism will not go away" and he will say that "this is a battle - like the battle against inflation - which is never finally won".

The Foreign Secretary has made transatlantic co-operation an important theme of his term in office and this will be his second keynote speech on the subject.

Mr Rifkind is to select three target areas for British lobbying. He wants to see cuts in specific tariffs in the US and Europe that can amount to 48 per cent on footwear, 32 per cent on clothing and 25 per cent on trucks. He will advocate Early Mutual Recognition Agreements to cut barriers imposed by local standards and regulations. He will also criticise "Buy America" legislation in the US which shuts European companies out of parts of the $900bn (pounds 588bn) transatlantic public-procurement market.

In a bilateral context, the Foreign Secretary also will issue a call for Britain and the US to resume talks on an air-services agreement between them, adopting the basis of the last British offer. The negotiations broke down last year.

Mr Rifkind says Britain wants to see progress by the European Union on measures to reduce tariffs and open up public procurement agreed at the EU-US summit in Madrid last year. He will call for "new political will" to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

Mr Rifkind will add that the Italian presidency of the EU should accelerate talks on free trade with Canada and Mexico, a prospect that probably will seem unpalatable to the southern Europeans.