Background

U.S. and United Kingdom trade officials agreed this week to pursue closer trade ties even though what that may ultimately look like remains somewhat unclear.

Following two days of talks under the first joint U.S./UK Dialogues on the Future of Atlantic Trade, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and UK trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan committed to take the following steps.

- build on the G-7’s first-ever set of digital trade principles, such as working toward the digitization of paper-based customs and other border agency requirements

- build strong, durable supply chains that can withstand future global shocks

- address third-party market-distorting practices

- tackle forced labor globally

- create trade incentives to transition to a decarbonized economy

- reestablish a small and medium-sized enterprise dialogue to identify ways to further support trade and investment

- harness the benefits of an open and competitive digital economy, with appropriate safeguards for workers, consumers, and businesses

- support the protection of labor rights and the environment with each another and other trading partners

- advance trade policy to consider gender, underserved, and marginalized communities as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and producers

USTR said the dialogues will be used to “identify further steps” to advance the bilateral trade relationship and address “shared challenges and opportunities” over the coming months, with the next round of talks expected to take place in the UK in late April.

According to press reports, however, Tai downplayed the idea that the dialogues may evolve into negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement, even as Trevelyan indicated London’s support for an FTA, which the two sides had started discussing under the Trump administration.

While Tai said that FTAs are part of the U.S. “toolbox” and that she doesn’t want to “prejudge … where these dialogues take us,” she added that FTAs are “a very 20th century tool” and that she wants to avoid spending “years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears working on something that isn’t going to be relevant to the needs of our people in our economy.” Instead, she said, the U.S. intends the dialogues to raise “new sets of questions” that will enable the two sides to find “outside of the box” ways to boost two-way trade.

For more information on U.S.-UK trade issues, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.

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