Talk of Trump-May trade deal worries UK agriculture

Business leaders in London appeared unsure how talks will proceed over a proposed, post-Brexit trade deal with the US, after Prime Minister Theresa May met President Donald Trump in Washington.

Trump-May trade deal worries UK agriculture
Business leaders in London appeared unsure how talks would proceed over a proposed, post-Brexit trade deal with the US, heralded by Prime Minister Theresa May after she met President Donald Trump in Washington on Friday.No agreement could be signed until after the UK has actually left the European Union although, as Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, accepted last week there was nothing to stop the two sides talking.During a press conference with Mr Trump at the White House on Friday, Mrs May said, “We are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate high-level talks, and lay the groundwork for a US-UK trade agreement."She said there were practical steps both governments could take now "in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily”. She added, “And I’m convinced that a trade deal between the US and the UK is in the national interest of both countries and will cement the crucial relationship that exists between us, particularly as the UK leaves the European Union and reaches out to the world.”

Britain 'at the front of the line' in trade talks

Mr Trump did not comment on a potential trade deal during the press conference but has previously stated his support for putting Britain "at the front of the line" in trade talks – a message echoed by some of his closest aides in a meeting in New York in early January with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.While a spokesman for Mrs May has spoken of US and UK negotiators "scoping" a potential deal while talks over Brexit continue, analysts have expressed fears over potential dangers to Britain's financial sector of a relaxed regulatory regime, particularly on data protection, and, notably, to how a deal might affect the UK's agricultural industry.Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has warned that UK farms could face a “perfect storm” of losing tariff-free access to the EU market, while being undercut by cheap US imports. “Hard Brexit and a free trade deal with Trump pose a threat to the family farm as we know it,” he said on a visit to Cornwall.

Trade liberalisation 'puts UK standards at risk'

Agriculture proved a major stumbling block in attempts to negotiate a trade deal between the US and EU. Nick von Westenholz, the National Farmers' Union director of Brexit and international trade, commented, “UK farmers face an increased cost base as they produce food to some of the highest environmental, health and welfare standards in the world – something the UK public truly values. Ruthless pursuit of trade liberalisation puts these standards at peril.”Dr Geoff Raby, head of trade policy at the Policy Exchange think-tank and a former Australian ambassador to China and to the World Trade Organisation, said, "Theresa May seems to have secured the support of Donald Trump for a UK-USA free-trade agreement (FTA). With the backing of these leaders, negotiating an FTA between these two developed economies with a shared long-standing support for open markets, on the face of it, should be relatively straightforward. The reality is likely to be much more complex."At this stage, the two main unknowns are how the new US administration will approach trade negotiations, and what the UK’s starting position will be in them. So we are left to read the tea leaves."All the uncertainties notwithstanding, undoubtedly the UK and USA will be able to negotiate a post-Brexit high-quality FTA and that is a good thing for the parties and for the international trading system beyond. But in January 2017, the degree to which the UK’s negotiating position will be influenced by its long-standing participation in the EU, and how the new Trump administration will impact on those eventual talks, are both major unknowns."

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The Spectator commented: "Government ministers think that, given the political will on both sides, the deal could be negotiated in just eight months. There is also confidence in Whitehall that the US will be prepared to grant an exemption for public services, which would ‘protect’ the NHS. This should do much to reduce the intensity of the opposition to the deal."Trump’s protectionist rhetoric is often cited as a reason why a US-UK deal will not happen, or will be very limited. But worrying as Trump’s protectionist rhetoric is for the world economy, it does not actually mean much when it comes to a US-UK deal. No one in the old manufacturing, rust belt states that Trump flipped to win the presidency will feel their job is threatened by a trade agreement with the UK."

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