UK pushed to back of US trade queue following Brexit vote
White House top trade negotiator says US focus is on TTIP and not UK
Mike Froman: “the UK first and foremost needs to focus on how to define its future relationship with the EU”. Photograph: Reuters
Striking a trade deal with the UK is not on the US’s list of priorities, trade representative Mike Froman said, echoing President Barack Obama’s pre-Brexit vote warning that a decision to leave the EU would push Britain to the “back of the queue”.
Mr Froman, the White House’s top trade negotiator, also poured scorn on the idea put forward by the UK’s pro-Brexit camp that the country could immediately start discussing deals with other parts of the world.
“The UK first and foremost needs to focus on how to define its future relationship with the EU and that will be its overwhelming preoccupation, and it’s really impossible for anybody else to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK until you know what is its competence,” he said in an interview in New York.
During the referendum campaign Brexit supporters such as now-foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Britain outside the EU would be free to swiftly pursue its own trade deals with the rest of the world. They criticised Mr Obama’s intervention as part of a slew of tactics aimed at scaring voters into choosing to remain in the EU.
Three months after the vote to leave European leaders are urging prime minister Theresa May to make clear her vision for Britain’s future EU ties. She has yet to trigger article 50 to fire the starting pistol on two years of negotiations for withdrawal.
Back of the lineMr Obama’s warning, made in London in April, that the UK would be at the back of the line for a US trade deal is now “in reality the case”, Mr Froman said, adding that the British government needs to concentrate on working out how it would trade with the EU in the future.
“Is it in a customs union with the European Union? Does it have control over its tariffs? Does it have control over its regulations?” he said. “And those are still issues that are to be worked out between London and the other European capitals.”
He said the US was focusing on negotiations on the proposed trade pact with the EU, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The UK would have been part of TTIP had it not opted to leave the bloc.
“It’s absolutely clear, we have a very special relationship with the UK, we’re going to want to find ways to maintain and strengthen and deepen that trade and investment relationship over time, but right now our priority is to get TTIP done,” Mr Froman said.
“Their priority, understandably and importantly, is in figuring out the answers to those questions about what their relationship with the European Union is going to be.”