February 23, 2018

G20: UK-US trade deal to happen quickly, says Trump

trumpUS President Donald Trump has said he expects a “powerful” trade deal with the UK to be completed “very quickly”.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg, he said he would visit London. Asked when, he said: “We’ll work that out.”
In one-to-one talks, Mr Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to prioritise work on a post-Brexit trade deal, a UK government official said.
The president made it clear he believed Britain would “thrive” once it had left the European Union, the official added.
In the 50-minute meeting, which overran by 20 minutes, the two leaders spent a “significant” amount of time on trade in a discussion described as entirely “positive”.
Mrs May had been expected to urge Mr Trump to reconsider his decision to take the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
‘Good sign’
Before their meeting, Mr Trump hailed the “very special relationship” he had developed with Mrs May.
“There is no country that could possibly be closer than our countries,” he told reporters.
“We have been working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal, a very powerful deal, great for both countries and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.”
Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to Washington, said Mr Trump’s statement of intent was a “very good sign for the future” and would be “useful” to Mrs May.
So long as Mr Trump maintained that political impetus, it could help negotiators get over any stumbling blocks, he said.
But Sir Simon Fraser, a former diplomat who served as a permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, cast doubt on how soon any trade deal could be reached.
“The point is we can’t negotiate with them or anyone else until we’ve left the European Union.
“And the Americans and others will not negotiate with us until they know what our relationship with the EU is going to be, because the access we have in Europe is hugely important for the advantages that they can get from their relations with us.”
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, in Hamburg, said Mr Trump was known to have accepted an invitation for a state visit to the UK – a prospect that has caused huge controversy – but no date was given.
Mr Meyer said the visit would be a “very important moment” to nail down Mr Trump’s commitment to a strong bilateral agreement.
Under EU rules, formal talks between London and Washington couldn’t begin until March 2019, unless Brussels agrees the UK can make a start earlier.
Trade talks tend to be complex and technical, lasting several years.
The EU and Japan took four years to reach an agreement in principle. But those discussions involved 29 nations; UK-US talks would involve just two.
With strong political will and determination, a transatlantic agreement could perhaps be completed more speedily than has been the norm for trade pacts.
Talks would cover cutting customs duties, making products such as cars and food cheaper.
The average UK-US tariff is relatively low anyway, at 3%, and huge amounts of trade already take place.
Negotiations usually cover thornier topics, such as food safety and environmental standards.
If one side agreed to accept the other’s rules, a deal could be done quickly. But that would be controversial in various sectors. That’s when negotiations can begin to drag.
Mrs May also held a 20-minute meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which focused on trade and North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.
Japan’s new trade deal with the EU, signed off on Thursday, “could form the basis” of an agreement between London and Tokyo following Brexit, Mrs May told her fellow leader.
One-to-one talks are also planned with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss ways to tackle the increasing numbers of Islamic State fighters leaving Syria across its border.
After a meeting on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China and the UK were in a “golden era” of relations and increased investment from his country since the Brexit vote showed its confidence in Britain.
The G20 summit is the first gathering of world leaders since the UK’s general election last month, during which Mrs May’s Conservative party lost seats and her performance was widely criticised.
The BBC’s deputy political editor John Pienaar said Mrs May’s counterparts knew the election result had left her weaker and with less authority, and they would be looking at her through that lens.
But Mrs May said Britain would continue to be “bold” on the world stage, and she would take a lead, not “sit back” and be “timid”.
The G20 (Group of Twenty) is a summit for 19 countries, both developed and developing, plus the EU.
The two-day meeting is being held against a backdrop of violent protests on the streets of Hamburg, with demonstrators and heavily-armed police clashing into the early hours of Saturday.
The protests centre mainly on the presence of Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, climate change and global wealth inequalities.

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