No 10 says US trade talks progressing ‘at pace’ after Donald Trump’s top negotiator warns 2020 deal ‘nearly impossible’
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are pressing ahead with a post-Brexit trade agreement. (PA)
Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the United States are continuing “at pace”, Number 10 has insisted, after Donald Trump’s top negotiator said they were unlikely to wrap up before November.
Downing Street said Britain remained determined to strike “an ambitious deal” with the US following the comments by American trade representative Robert Lighthizer.
The two sides are currently involved in a second round of negotiations on their trade terms once Britain’s current transition period with the European Union — which has previously handled trade policy — comes to an end in December.
Speaking in Congress this week, Mr Lighthizer said concluding a British-American agreement before the November presidential election would be “almost impossible”.
He told the House Ways and Means Committee: “I think it's unlikely that that happens.
“It is almost impossible unless the members [of Congress] decide they want something extraordinary to have it actually come before the Congress before November."
Responding to the ambassador’s comments on Thursday, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “The US is our largest trading partner and we want to strike an ambitious deal that benefits every region and nation in the UK.”
And they added: “As we made clear in the outcome statement to the first negotiation round, the negotiations with the US have been proceeding at pace. The second virtual round is currently underway and we welcome the US' repeated commitment to reaching an agreement.”
Pressed on the timeframe for striking a deal, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “The time it takes to agree a deal depends on how quickly the negotiations progress.
“Both negotiating teams have already laid the groundwork for an ambitious agreement through the UK/US trade and investment working group which has met six times.
“They have discussed the full suite of every topic typically included in FTAs and that allowed to talks to quickly get underway.
“So as I say, the talks have begun at pace and we are in the middle of the second virtual round of negotiations.”
A major sticking point in talks between the two sides so far has been whether to accept US food standards as the price of doing a deal.
Campaigners warn that the move could open up the UK to products like chlorine-washed chicken, although the Government has said Britain will not “compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards".
Mr Lighthizer told US lawmakers that the issue of food standards was “very difficult”, and said whether or not the UK chooses to accept EU regulations in separate talks with the bloc could have a distinct bearing on how the US negotiations play out.
He said: “If they buy Europe's total regulatory regime, then we're in a position where we're going to get substantially less, and thus the way I think about these things, and I'm a pure pragmatist, we should give them less.”
And he added: ”One thing’s for sure, we’re not going to be in a position where our farmers aren’t treated fairly.”