US dashes Boris Johnson’s hopes of quick post-Brexit trade deal by announcing ‘review’ of talks

Brakes slammed on negotiations to reassess ‘developments’ and confront ‘pandemic reality’

Rob Merrick
Thursday 25 February 2021 19:02 GMT
Joe Biden's trade nominee dashes hopes of early UK trade deal

The US has dashed Boris Johnson’s hopes of a quick post-Brexittrade deal, announcing a “review” of the negotiations so far.

Joe Biden’s pick to be his trade envoy slammed the brakes on the talks, pointing to a lot of “developments” since they began in 2018 and the priority of defeating the Covid-19 threat.

There was a need to “review the discussions and the negotiations so far, in the light of all of these developments”, Katherine Tai told a confirmation hearing.

A deal with Washington has assumed totemic importance for Brexit supporters and their claims of a new ‘Global Britain’, despite what trade experts see as negligible economic gains.

In Donald Trump’s last days in office, the UK unilaterally dropped tariffs against the US over subsidies for aerospace firms in a desperate bid to oil the wheels before Mr Biden took over.

Ms Tai noted that the Trump administration set out its aims for a trade agreement way back in 2018, saying: “That’s almost two-and-a-half years ago.”

Since then, the UK had signed “two agreements” with the European Union, the Brexit withdrawal deal and the Christmas Eve trade accord.

“It will be important to me to review the progress in the conversations so far, to review the objectives in light of all the changes that have taken place in the last two-and-a-half years,” Ms Tai said.

And she added: “We have all been going through a pandemic reality for the last year – we are still in the midst of it, working to get out of it.”

The nominee for trade representative enjoys some rare Republican support and is expected to be confirmed easily.

In the hearing, before the Senate Finance Committee, she broke with Trump’s go-it-alone approach to combating China’s aggressive trade policies, by pledging to work with allies.

She would “prioritise rebuilding our international alliances and partnerships and re-engaging with international institutions” to present Beijing with “a united front”, the committee was told.

But Ms Tai dodged questions on two politically sensitive questions – whether Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminium would be dropped, or the aborted Asia-Pacific trade deal revived.

Mr Biden was already thought unlikely to accelerate a UK trade deal, having clashed with Downing Street over the Bill that threatened to break international law over Northern Ireland.

His home state is Delaware – one of the US’s largest chicken producers – which appeared to make the UK’s new reluctance to make concessions on agriculture another obstacle.

Nick Clegg once insisted that the Democrats had told him “we are not going to sign anything that the chicken farmers of Delaware don’t like”.

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