Ahead of his first visit to the White House, PM Johnson downplays hopes of quick UK-US trade deal

Tue 21 Sept 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

white house

Boris Johnson has described Joe Biden as a “breath of fresh air” and said there are things that the UK and US can work on ahead of his meeting with the US president this evening.

The prime minister was speaking to US television today as part of his visit to the US this week.

He said the current priorities in the UK-US relationship were tackling climate change, the new AUKUS security pact and the “massive logistical success” of the operation pulling people out of Afghanistan.

No quick trade deal

However, Johnson has admitted that the chances of a quick UK-US trade deal are currently low.

“The reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry,” the Times reports him saying.

“He’s got a huge infrastructure package, he’s got a build back better package,” he added. “We want to do it, but what we want is a good free trade agreement, and I would much rather get a deal that really works for the UK than get a quick deal”.

Congressional difficulties

According to the Telegraph, Johnson’s official spokesman declined to say he believed a deal could be got through Congress before the US midterm elections next November.

Biden has adopted a more cautious approach to trade deals than his predecessor Donal Trump, and there remains doubt about whether he will prioritise pushing a deal through Congress where there is only a slim Democrat majority.

If the Republicans take back control of the Senate at next November’s elections, this could throw any deal negotiated by the Biden administration into doubt.

Beef, whisky, planes

However, Johnson heralded other successful trade negotiations between the two countries, including the lifting of the ban on British beef exports last year and the lifting of tariffs on whisky.

“We’ve sorted out the Boeing-Airbus dispute that bedevilled our relations for many years,” he said.

“And we’ve launched a historic pact with our Australian friends as well, which will enable the UK and US to share technology, to develop a defence technology partnership and more, for decades ahead,” he added.

Travel bonus

Johnson has also hailed Biden’s decision to lift US travel restrictions for UK people as “a fantastic boost for business and trade”, according to the Guardian.

From early November, the US will allow fully vaccinated passengers from the UK and most EU countries to travel into the country, lifting a ban imposed by Donald Trump more than 18 months ago when Covid-19 took hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

White House visit

In his first visit to the White House, Johnson is due to meet Biden at around 9.45pm BST and he will also meet vice president Kamala Harris beforehand, according to Politico.

There are hopes in Johnson’s camp that Biden will boost the UK’s COP26 ambitions by doubling the US commitment on climate finance.

Commonalities

Johnson today told NBC interviewer Savannah Guthrie: “It is the job of any Prime Minister of the UK to have a good relationship with the President of the United States.”

He said there were commonalities with the Biden administration: “He wants to cut CO2. He wants to get to net zero by 2050. And he shares, with me, a basic view that you can do this without penalising the economy.”