UK trade secretary moves to advance US talks

UK trade secretary moves to advance US talks

Britain’s trade secretary Liz Truss will meet top American officials in Washington next week in their first talks since the UK and US launched trade negotiations.

The meeting comes as the two sides press ahead into the second week of the third round of talks, which have so far been conducted through online video conferencing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two people familiar with Ms Truss’s schedule said she was expected to be in Washington from this weekend, with a third person saying that the British cabinet minister was expected to meet Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, on Monday and Tuesday to discuss progress made so far. 

“I think they see this as an opportunity to take stock of where we are, agree next steps and priorities and continue to build their relationship,” said a person familiar with the talks.

A USTR official confirmed that Mr Lighthizer was set to meet Ms Truss in Washington. A British official also confirmed the meeting.

Ms Truss’s visit to Washington despite the escalating coronavirus case numbers in the US underlines the UK’s desire to quickly strike a free trade agreement with America, which has been seen as a major prize by British officials. 

The UK Department for International Trade has suggested that a successful deal with Washington could eventually boost the British economy by £15bn a year.

In a joint statement issued in May, Ms Truss and Mr Lighthizer said both countries were seeking an “ambitious deal” with a free trade agreement “a priority”. They said they had “committed the resources necessary to progress at a fast pace”.

However, optimism that a quick trade deal could be struck with America has waned on the British side. UK politicians, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ms Truss, first insisted that a deal would be possible by late summer, before moving to suggest it could be signed before the US presidential election.

Last month, however, British officials said they had given up on hopes of reaching a trade deal with America ahead of the November poll, blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for slow progress.

US officials have long been wary of closing any meaningful deal with London until the terms of Britain’s trading relationship with the EU are clear, because that will determine how closely, and in what areas, the UK’s regulations will remain aligned with Brussels.

Congressional aides and lobbyists in Washington have also long been sceptical of much progress before the presidential election, as the two sides grapple over contentious issues including UK market access for US farmers and patent protections for US pharmaceuticals companies.