WASHINGTON: A comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and US is no longer a priority for the UK or US, Rishi Sunak has said.
The wide-ranging deal was once promised as the ultimate post-Brexit goal for trading, but a lack of interest in pursuing an agreement from US President Joe Biden has forced the UK Government to downgrade its expectations.
Instead, the Prime Minister is hoping to make ground on sectoral-specific deals during his visit to Washington this week, including in digital trade.
Mr Sunak said he would be pressing the US president on building on these smaller deals as well as pushing for a closer economic security alliance to reflect current “challenges”.
“I think that for a while now, [a free trade agreement] has not been a priority for either the US or UK because what we’re both focused on is making sure that our economic partnership reflects the particular challenges and opportunities of the time that we’re in right now,” Mr Sunak told journalists.
“And that is the conversation that I will be having with President Biden. That involves not just trade but also economic security, which is increasingly important.”
Pressed on whether the post-Brexit promise of a wide-ranging UK-US deal was unrealistic, Mr Sunak said: “All I said is since I’ve been Prime Minister, we’ve been focused – as have the US – on making sure that our economic partnership reflects the opportunities and challenges of the time that we face now.”
The PM said he will talk to President Biden about “specific and targeted ways to improve trade” between the UK and US through mutual investments.
And he argued that the economic relationship must reflect “the particular challenges and opportunities at the time were in” – alluding to his wish for greater cooperation on issues including green industry and AI.
Asked about the special relationship Mr Sunak played up his relationship with the US president.
“I focus more on actions than words or phrases and and the facts are clear,” he said. “The US is our largest trading partner. They are our closest diplomatic ally, when it comes to matters of defensive security. There is no country with which we collaborate more with and that’s been the case for decades.
“Also, I’m lucky to enjoy a good relationship with President Biden. I’ve seen him multiple times in just the past few months – when he came to Northern Ireland and Japan the other week, and now here.
“I’ll be pleased to be talking to him about our economic relationship. Thousands and thousands of British jobs depend on American investment. Today we’re announcing £14bn of new investment.
“That’s great for the country, but also how do we evolve our economic relationship so that we can protect our citizens against the new threats that we face when it comes to the economy? And that’s something that will be on our agenda tomorrow.”