Liz Truss vows to drive a ‘hard bargain’ as UK-US trade talks kick off amid coronavirus lockdown
The International Trade Secretary said a deal would ‘help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by coronavirus’.
Talks between Britain and the United States on a post-Brexit trade deal will formally begin on Tuesday as both countries continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
The first two-week round of talks will kick off later, with Trade Secretary Liz Truss speaking to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer via videolink amid strict social distancing rules on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ms Truss said: "The US is our largest trading partner and increasing transatlantic trade can help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by Coronavirus.
"We want to strike an ambitious deal that opens up new opportunities for our businesses, brings in more investment and creates better jobs for people across the whole of the country."
And she added: "The Prime Minister has been clear that we champion free trade and this deal will make it even easier to do business with our friends across the pond.
"As we sit down at the negotiating table today be assured that we will we will drive a hard bargain to secure a deal that benefits individuals and businesses in every region and nation of the UK."
Both representatives are being supported by a 100-strong team of negotiators, the Department for International Trade said, and further rounds of talks will take place every six weeks as the two sides work to thrash out a deal covering vast swathes of the economy.
The two countries are negotiating a new trade deal following Britain’s departure from the European Union, which previously dealt with US trade policy, and the talks come alongside separate negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
A 180-page UK mandate for the talks, published earlier this year, vowed to maintain consumer and environmental health standards and protect the National Health Service, with a promise that drug pricing or the provision of health services will not be “on the table”.
"If Boris Johnson will not stand up to Donald Trump, then the British Parliament must" - Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry
The US is pushing for more market access for its agricultural sector - a move that opposition parties fear could lead to a lowering of food standards compared to the current EU levels, including through the controversial introduction of chlorine-washed chicken.
Speaking ahead of the talks, Labour’s Emily Thornberry said: “With the US election now just six months away, we should all be extremely wary of a President who will do anything to stay in the White House, and a Conservative government that will do anything to help him.
"That is a recipe for a trade deal designed for the benefit of the major corporations behind American industry, farming and healthcare, which will have very real implications on workers’ rights, environmental protections, the food we eat and our beloved NHS.”
The Shadow International Trade Secretary added: "If Boris Johnson will not stand up to Donald Trump, then the British Parliament must. This is too important to get wrong. Labour will insist that any proposed trade deal is subject to proper scrutiny, and we will not let the interests of the British people be sacrificed to boost the profits of US corporations."
"An ambitious deal should offer opportunities for all regions and nations of the UK" - The CBI
That view was echoed by the SNP’s Stewart Hosie, who warned that running both US and EU talks concurrently during the Covid-19 crisis represented “an act of extreme economic harm“.
He said: "Businesses, key sectors, and our economy have already been dealt a hammer blow from the coronavirus crisis - attempting to pursue a race to the bottom trade deal with the US at the same time would be reckless.”
And Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Instead of rushing towards a bad deal with the US, the government should extend the EU transition period so that business can have a breather, and we can get on with the most important thing – helping the vulnerable in our society.”
'SIGN OF HOPE'
But the CBI, which represents Britain’s biggest businesses, said the talks offered a “sign of hope” to firms hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The body’s deputy director general Josh Hardie said: “While the attention of most businesses right now is to get through the COVID crisis, it’s vital that we keep one eye to the future and how we can plan for an economic recovery.”
And he added: “The US and UK already share the world’s largest bilateral investment relationship and an ambitious deal should offer opportunities for all regions and nations of the UK.”
The Federation of Small Businesses said the US represented the “number one single market of choice” for smaller importers and exporters, and said the talks kicking off on Tuesday would be “critical”.
“Exporting will be crucial for many small businesses to support their recovery from the pandemic and that is why it’s crucial to see a reduction in tariff and non-tariff barriers,” FSB chairman Mike Cherry said.
He added: “With our economy likely to be suppressed for some time, we are going to need small businesses that trade to lead the way. The prospects of a trade-led recovery would be lifted by progress in trade negotiations with the EU as our nearest trading bloc, the US as the largest global economy, as well as other nations already bouncing back after COVID-19 such as China.
“Our own findings suggest that the US is the most important individual country market for small firms hoping to export over the next three years, with 46% selecting the country.”