By Bryce Baschuk
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said it’s “extremely likely” the U.S. and U.K. can reach a free trade agreement before long, urging British officials to bend on their hardened positions on key issues like food safety.
In an interview with the BBC, Lighthizer said the November election in the U.S. has had an impact on the timing of transatlantic talks and there is still “a short period of time” for negotiators to complete a deal before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
“This is something that can happen,” he said. “It will require compromises on both sides.”
What’s unclear, though, is whether Biden will want to move as quickly on any agreement. The incoming president has pledged to focus on domestic priorities and warned that he would not support a U.K.-U.S. trade deal if Brexit compromised the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
The U.K. has been trying to secure as many trade agreements as it can prior to the year-end expiration of its withdrawal agreement with the European Union.
Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced on Tuesday a continuity agreement with Mexico to ensure the U.K. maintains market access due to Brexit. The Mexico agreement builds upon other important accords signed with Canada, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.
U.S. and U.K. trade negotiators continue to spar over perennial trade concerns like the U.S. demand that Britain accepts beef produced with artificial growth hormones and poultry washed with microbial chlorine.
Lighthizer said U.S. farmers want greater agricultural access to the U.K. market and Britain must be able to accept American standards in order to finalize a bilateral deal.
“That is an important part of it,” he said. “Each side needs to get something out of it” and “these are complicated technical issues and these are the kinds of things that will get worked out, I think, in the final stages of a negotiation.”
Lighthizer said Brexit remains an important factor in the bilateral U.S.-U.K. trade talks because the relationship is intertwined with the EU’s commercial ties to Britain.
The post-Brexit issues “will be sorted out one way or another,” said Lighthizer. “Then I think there is no reason why the United States and the U.K. can’t get to a deal fairly expeditiously after that.”
Lighthizer added that he’s “hopeful” the two sides can come to a separate agreement that would roll back American tariffs on Scotch whisky and other British goods as a result of a 2019 World Trade Organization aircraft dispute ruling.
“You never know,” Lighthizer said. “We don’t have a lot of time left.”