Trump offers Britain quick trade accord

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

He signals major shift in transatlantic ties, but bilateral deals have taken 31/2 years on average to be implemented

WASHINGTON • US President- elect Donald Trump said he would offer Britain a quick and "fair" trade deal when he meets Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after taking office, as he signalled a major shift in transatlantic relations.

"We're gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides," Mr Trump said in an interview with the Times of London conducted by Mr Michael Gove, a former Conservative Cabinet minister who was one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign.

Britain, which plans to start two years of negotiations to quit the European Union (EU) by the end of March, cannot strike new trade deals on its own until it leaves the EU, or at least exits the bloc's Customs union.

Still, Mr Trump's comments are likely to buoy Mrs May's government, which is trying to show European counterparts that it can prosper outside the EU in order to strengthen its negotiating position.

Mr Trump's stance contrasts with that of outgoing President Barack Obama, who said during the referendum campaign that Britain would be "at the back of the queue" for any trade accord if it voted to leave the bloc.

Mr Trump's warmth towards Britain, which he said will benefit from its divorce from Europe, contrasts with the President-elect's scorn for Nato, the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

I think it's very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast... Clearly it'll have to be a deal that's very much in the interests of both sides, but I've no doubt that it will be.

FOREIGN SECRETARY BORIS JOHNSON, on the potential free trade deal.

He forecast other countries would leave the 28-nation bloc, which he described as a "vehicle for Germany", and said leaving would be good for Britain.

His comments on the outlook for a British trade deal may also make it more attractive for Britain to leave the Customs union, the trading arrangement that all EU countries belong to but which also includes non-EU members.

Those favouring a clean break from the bloc want Mrs May to exit the Customs union, a move that would free the government's hand to have trade talks but also impose costs on exporters.

A spokesman for Mrs May yesterday said the British PM welcomes Mr Trump's commitment to work on a trade deal with Britain.

Mrs May is due to outline her vision for Brexit today, and newspapers reported at the weekend that she would signal a willingness to leave the single market if that is the price of being able to clamp down on immigration.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a pro-Brexit figure who sees Britain's future in free trade deals beyond Europe, also welcomed Mr Trump's comments. He yesterday said he was sure Britain and the US could conclude a free trade deal that was in their mutual interests.

"I think it's very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast," said Mr Johnson.

"Clearly it'll have to be a deal that's very much in the interests of both sides but I've no doubt that it will be."

Yet even if Britain does leave the Customs union before quitting the EU, a trade deal would take years to negotiate, if previous efforts are a guide.

According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, bilateral trade deals with the US have taken an average of 31/2 years to be implemented.

Still, Mr Trump said he would not waste any time, and would meet Mrs May soon in Washington. The date for the meeting is yet to be announced.

"She's requesting a meeting and we'll have a meeting right after I get into the White House," the Times quoted him as saying in the report published on Sunday.

"I think we're gonna get something done very quickly."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Trump offers Britain quick trade accord'. Print Edition | Subscribe