- The UK is likely to miss the mid-2021 deadline for a UK-US trade deal set by ministers earlier this year, experts and former US officials in Washington have told Business Insider.
- Boris Johnson’s Brexit maneuvers appear to have undermined trust in the UK government among the incoming Biden administration.
- Another major stumbling block in talks is the incredibly tight timeline to negotiate a trade deal from when Biden takes office on January 20 — the UK’s de-facto deadline for agreeing a deal is in April.
- ‘Can you negotiate a major free trade deal in six weeks? It’s never been done that I know of,’ said Tyson Barker, a former State Department official in the”Obama administration.
- ‘I really don’t think it is a likely prospect,’ said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
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The UK is likely to miss the mid-2021 deadline for a free trade agreement with the US set by ministers in Boris Johnson’s government earlier this year, experts and former US officials in Washington have told Business Insider.
In September, Liz Truss, the UK trade secretary, said she wanted to get a deal approved by June 2021, when the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) will lose its power to fast-track deals through US Congress.
Experts and former officials said it was doubtful that the incoming Biden administration would either have the time or the political will to approve a deal with the UK by April.
“I really don’t think it is a likely prospect,” said Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “In many ways the clock is going to work against a new administration that has to get people confirmed.”
President-elect Biden has said he intends to put domestic issues on the agenda first, meaning he appears unlikely to prioritize complicated trade negotiations with the UK, especially when both sides remain far apart in negotiating positions on thorny issues as US agricultural exports to Britain.
Furthermore, Johnson’s Brexit maneuvers appear to have undermined trust in the UK government among the incoming Biden administration.
“The Biden administration will not even contemplate discussions with the UK until it’s satisfied the Good Friday Agreement will not be disturbed by whatever deal the UK works out with the EU,” said Gary Hufbauer, a former US Treasury official and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
The prime minister’s Internal Market Bill, a highly controversial piece of legislation which senior Democrats say could undermine the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, would prevent any progress in UK-US trade negotiations should Johnson continue to press it through parliament.
Such an outcome remains a realistic prospect if the UK and EU cannot agree on a trade deal by next week.
“The catastrophic consequences of the Internal Market Bill are continuing to be felt,” said Heather Conley.
“Unless the House of Representatives is completely assured that there is not going to be disruption to the Good Friday Peace Accord, I don’t think anything is going to move forward. I don’t think you can give those assurances by April even if there is a deal.”
Reports in the British press this week of a “review clause” in UK-EU trade negotiations this week could also prove a stumbling block in any progress with a UK-US trade agreement, Conley said, because they raise the possibility of the UK reneging on commitments over the Good Friday Agreement.
Another major stumbling block in talks is the incredibly tight timeline to negotiate a trade deal from when Biden takes office on January 20.
The Trade Promotion Authority — legislation that gives the president power to fast-track trade deals through Congress — expires on July 1. US negotiators are expected to give the TPA 90 days notice for any trade deal.
That means the UK’s de-facto deadline for agreeing a trade deal is on April 1, according to Miranda Lutz, a senior associate at Global Counsel, in a post published in August.
Negotiations appear unlikely to proceed until President-elect Biden has appointed and confirmed a US Trade Representative (USTR), typically taking months. Robert Lighthizer, the current USTR, was not confirmed until May 2017, four months after Trump took office.
Once the new USTR is in place, the new trade team will also require a period of time to formulate its trade goals, Miranda Lutz argued, meaning that negotiations with the UK could not begin immediately.
“Typically, the USTR nominee is rather far down the line in terms of confirmation. Well below the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, and so on,” said Gary Hufbauer.
“The big question is about capacity and timing,” Tyson Barker, senior fellow at German Council on Foreign Relations, and a former State Department official in the Obama administration, told Business Insider.
“This administration needs to have people authorized to complete negotiations, you have to confirm a US trade representative, and I can’t see that happening before the end of February at the earliest. You’re looking at a really tight window, as you have to conclude it by April. Can you negotiate a major free trade deal in six weeks?
“It’s never been done, that I know of.”