US and UK to start trade talks next month to ensure deal soon after Brexit

20 June 2017

Trade talks with the US will kick off next month as British officials start to scope out plans for a deal, with the aim of setting up a free trade agreement as soon as possible after Brexit.

Liam Fox, the secretary for international trade, is in Washington to meet US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, discussing trade and investment between the two countries.

“We’re not allowed to conclude any negotiations as long as we’re part of the EU, but of course we are allowed to scope out the future relationship that we will require as we do leave,” Mr Fox told an audience at the Select USA Investment Summit.

“We have trade working groups already set up to do the preliminary scoping out of that work, and the first meeting will be in July this year.”

Wilbur Ross, said the US is ready to strike a free trade deal with the UK as soon as Britain is ready - though Mr Fox said concluding the deal will have to wait until after Brexit

Mr Ross, speaking alongside Mr Fox, said that “from the US side, we’ve made it clear that we are prepared to begin as soon as the UK is ready.”

The US secretary of commerce said that Britain and the US are similar technology-economies with comparable levels of pay and a strong adherence to the rule of law, which he believes makes them good trading partners.

Mr Fox said he wants to make sure the relationship between the UK and the US does not worsen when the UK leaves the EU, as Brussels has struck deals with Washington which Britain does not want to lose when Brexit happens.

“The US has a number of agreements with the EU on on economics, on security, and on trade that the UK is party to at the moment and we will want to ensure we continue those as we leave the EU so there is no disruption to trade and to markets, it is very important that we do so,” he said, speaking at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington DC.

“Beyond that, we can look at new opportunities. The more we’re able to liberalise our economies, the more attractive we become for investment, the bigger the trade is likely to be between us, and ultimately, the most important thing, the greater the prosperity we can offer our people. Ultimately we all want to spend money on healthcare, infrastructure and education, but you have to generate the wealth first.”

In making the case for free trade, Mr Fox’s words also chime with those of his colleague Philip Hammond.

In London the Chancellor said he wants to launch a “crusade” to fight for more free trade in services, rather than just the in trade in goods on which trade deals have traditionally focused.

Philip Hammond gave his speech without the usual white tie outfit, as the formal Mansion House dinner was cancelled last week Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

“Stronger growth must be delivered through rising productivity. That means more trade, not less; maintaining our strong trade links with European markets after we leave the EU as well as seeking out new opportunities for trade and investment with old friends and fast growing emerging economies alike,” he said.

“It means the UK remaining open to the talent, the ideas and the capital that have driven the success of our economy in the past, and will drive it in the future. But it also means addressing the domestic weaknesses that have plagued us: underinvestment, both public and private; inadequate skills, and regional disparities.”

He was speaking at the Mansion House at a low-key event, replacing replaced the traditional dinner which was cancelled last week in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

“Our economy is 80pc services. Many of our areas of greatest competitiveness are in services: for example, finance and insurance, ICT and communications,” Mr Hammond said.

“So, for the UK to be able to share fairly in the benefits of globalisation, we need to lead a global crusade for liberalisation of services. And we must employ that logic in our Brexit negotiations, to agree a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement with our EU counterparts that covers both goods and services.”