UK switches tack and hopes to join trade pact with US, Mexico and Canada

Joe Biden sinks hopes of immediate British-American deal in talks with Boris Johnson

Britain is considering trying to join a trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada after US President Joe Biden dashed hopes of a swift bilateral deal with London.

The USMCA pact was signed by former US president Donald Trump last year after a renegotiation of the existing 1994 Nafta deal between the three nations.

Mr Biden was pressed about the prospect of a UK-US trade package and left little doubt that the UK remained at the back of the queue.

He also referred to the post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland, saying he felt “very strongly” about the border in Ireland.

Sitting alongside Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Oval Office, during their first White House meeting, President Biden said they would discuss trade “a little bit”.

“We’re going to have to work that through,” he said.

The Press Association reported that the UK’s new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss raised the stalled trade talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they met in New York at the UN General Assembly on Monday.

Ms Truss is said to be considering alternative routes to forge stronger transatlantic trade links, including the possibility of Britain joining the USMCA deal.

A diplomatic source said a variety of options were possible.

"The question is whether the US administration is ready. The ball is in the US’s court, it takes two to tango,” the source said.

After her US visit, Ms Truss will head to Mexico City to open a new British embassy.

As the UK has trade deals in place with Mexico and Canada, the government's main aim of joining USMCA would be to establish the American element of the partnership.

But with Mr Biden keen to focus more on his domestic agenda rather than strike trade deals around the globe, it remains to be seen if progress on joining the USMCA can be made.

Dmitry Grozoubinski, a trade consultant and visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde, said Britain would be at an immediate disadvantage if it chose to enter the agreement as the US, Mexico and Canada would be free to name their joining price.

“It’s certainly ambitious," he told the Financial Times. “And it’s also not clear how this would resolve the fundamental challenges to a US-UK free trade deal, which is firstly that the US has no appetite for it and, secondly, there remain significant areas, like agri-food standards, on which the two sides fundamentally disagree.”

A Cabinet minister on Wednesday acknowledged that a UK-US trade deal was “not a priority” for the president.

“We still very much hope to be able to put together an agreement with the United States. We are not putting timescales on it,” Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News.

“It’s just not a priority for the US administration.”

He insisted Mr Biden was “wrong” to have concerns about the wrangling over Northern Ireland’s Brexit trade deal and said he ws probably only “reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying”.

“We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States," he said.

“When you explain some of those provisions in detail, it is understood by the US government that that clearly does not make any sense and therefore should be revisited.”

“I’m not sure he does fully appreciate all of that,” Mr Eustice said of the “very complicated” situation.

A trade border was effectively established under the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the Brexit deal struck by the UK and the European Union.

Britain wants to change the deal but Mr Biden's government fears this could inflame tensions on the island of Ireland.

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 10:06 AM
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