Trump eyes big trade pact with Britain, says EU deal ongoing

Trump speaks while meeting Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump said on Thursday (March 14) he anticipated a "large scale" trade agreement with the United Kingdom, as Britain faces a delay to its exit from the European Union after parliament rejected the government's Brexit deal.

Britain's exit from the European Union, which conducts trade deals on its behalf, will see it head to the negotiating table to broker its own commerce pacts with other countries, including the United States, for the first time in decades.

"I'd like to see that whole situation with Brexit work out,"Trump told reporters at the White House ahead of a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

"We can do a very big trade deal with the UK."

Earlier on Thursday, Trump had tweeted: "My Administration looks forward to negotiating a large scale Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. The potential is unlimited!"

However, with a little more than two weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU, there is no firm agreement yet in place. Britain's parliament was due to vote later on Thursday on a last-minute delay after UK lawmakers twice rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's EU divorce deal.

A delay could also push back US-British trade talks.

The US Trade Representative's office has said it would launch negotiations with Britain after its planned exit from the EU on March 29. Last month, it laid out its objectives for a deal that included reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers for US industrial and agricultural goods.

British trade minister Liam Fox said Trump had shown his ambition for a trade agreement and he looked forward to sitting down at the negotiating table to strengthen the trading relationship.

"Greater trade between us reinforces a comprehensive alliance that goes far beyond the economic, providing for our national security and bringing prosperity to our people," Fox said in a statement in response to Trump's tweet.

Trump has made the US economy and trade a cornerstone of his presidency in line with his "America First" campaign, and has sought to renegotiate pacts with China, Canada and Mexico as well as the EU.

Trump said he was working on the US-EU trade deal and reiterated his tariff threat.

"If they don't talk to us, we're going to do something that's going to be pretty severely economically," he said.

"It'll probably work out. They're negotiating."

Varadkar said Britain's decision to leave the EU should not impact the UK's Northern Ireland, and that he would like to see a trade deal cemented between the EU and the United States.

"I think it will be a few years until the United Kingdom sorts itself out, but in the meantime the European Union is available to talk trade with the US," Varadkar said.

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