UK plan to join North American trade pact has ‘little validity’

British proposal is not on the trade agenda within US political circles, says congressman

The possibility of the United Kingdom joining a trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada (USMCA) is not on the US government's agenda and has "very little validity," a Democratic congressman has said.

Pennsylvania Democrat Brendan Boyle said reports of British prime minister Boris Johnson's government wanting to join the USMCA pact has not surfaced for discussion in Washington. Mr Boyle is a member of the House of Representatives ways and means committee that signs off on US trade deals.

“I have never heard of it and it has never been discussed once in the ways and means committee. I have had extensive talks with our US trade representative, and, to my understanding, this isn’t even a matter for consideration or on the agenda,” said Mr Boyle.

“So I have no idea where this came from but I would give it very little validity.”


The possibility of the UK joining the trilateral agreement – signed last year by then US president Donald Trump after a renegotiation of the 1994 Nafta agreement – emerged in UK media reports with British officials quoted as saying London was considering applying to join.

London is pursuing an alternative trade agreement after the Biden administration downplayed the possibility of a post-Brexit trade pact between the US and UK.

Mr Boyle said Congress was focused on "the entirety of the Biden domestic agenda" and that this was "by far getting the most attention here and really crowding out almost everything else".

In trade terms, the UK ranked well down the priority list on the US agenda because it accounts for just 2.5 per cent of trade with the US whereas 30 per cent of the country's trade is with Canada and Mexico and a further 13 per cent is with China.

“In terms of priorities, it just wouldn’t make sense that it would ever be on the top of the agenda for us,” said Mr Boyle.

Biden backing for NI protocol

Speaking next to Mr Johnson in the Oval Office on Tuesday, President Biden did not reject a past suggestion made by former US president Barack Obama said that the UK would be at the "back of the queue" for a post-Brexit trade agreement.

Mr Biden voiced his support for the Northern Ireland protocol, the Brexit agreement between the EU and the UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, repeating a past warning that the post-Brexit arrangements could not result in a "closed Border" in Ireland.

Mr Boyle said there was cross-party support for the protocol among Democrats and Republicans in Congress to ensure the Belfast Agreement, the 1998 peace deal, is protected.

“Give it a chance to succeed, recognising that if there are implementation challenges along the way, it’s best if folks are flexible to figure out ways to solve them,” he said.

“We always knew that there would be implementation challenges just because of the enormity of Brexit and what a disruption that is causing. I find that some things are being ascribed to the protocol unfairly and inaccurately that really have more to do with Brexit itself.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent