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Washington and London ready to resume trade talks in Baltimore

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British Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai are seen together in London in October 2021./AFP
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Mar 21, 2022 - 10:23 AM

WASHINGTON — Washington and London have chosen the port city of Baltimore — just an hour’s drive from the US capital — as the site of Monday’s talks on deepening their economic relationship.

The United States is Britain’s biggest trade partner, and the two countries are particularly interconnected when it comes to services trade and direct foreign investment.

In total, the US and the UK do some $263 billion (200 billion pounds) worth of trade per year.

Following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, London has been negotiating agreements far and wide in an effort to boost its international trade footprint — and has sought in particular to reinforce its relationship with the United States.

But even though the administration of former president Donald Trump seemed ready to make a new bilateral arrangement with London and had even opened negotiation talks, the administration of current President Joe Biden does not seem to be in a hurry to continue them.

“It’s important to remember that these (trade) agreements are just one tool at our disposal,” said a senior US trade official on the condition of anonymity.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who will lead the American side on Monday’s and Tuesday’s talks, is expected to talk about “the need to get creative and think outside the box when it comes to our trade dynamic with the UK,” another official said during a telephone conversation with reporters.

“Some of our trade tools were developed decades ago, many decades ago, and don’t particularly represent the global challenges that we faced today,” the second official said.

‘Work together’ 

Asked whether this week’s meeting marked a revival of negotiations that were interrupted last year, the officials insisted these talks are more about “deciding where to go together,” and said they are confident the conversations would be productive.

“The purpose of this dialogue is to work together to make our trade smarter, and to help our workers and businesses compete in a really tough global economy,” the second official said.

Tai and her British counterpart Anne-Marie Trevelyan are expected to address a series of challenges, such as reducing bottlenecks in global supply chains, reducing carbon use, promoting digital trade and supporting their nations’ workforces through labor rights, a favorite issue of the Biden administration.

The talks come as the war in Ukraine continues to rage more than three weeks after the country was invaded by Russia, but the meeting in Baltimore is not expected to lead to any announcements of new sanctions against Moscow, the American officials said.

That’s “in part because many of the major sanctions issues reside with other departments in the US government,” the second official said.

The discussions will, however, “be broadly based on the many ways in which we can pursue our shared interests vis a vis Russia, visa a vis China,” they said.

The talks will focus on “how the UK and US can use trade intelligently in the modern global economy” while deepening trade links, Trevelyan said last week in announcing her trip, adding that Tai would visit Britain for another round of discussions “later this spring.”

The two sides are not likely to discuss their disputes over steel and aluminum in Baltimore, as the topic falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce, the US officials said, but noted progress has been made in resolving that disagreement.

Britain and the United States in January announced efforts to put an end to the Trump-era steel and aluminum conflict. The United Kingdom became one of several countries upon which the US imposed an additional 25 percent tariff on steel and an additional 10 percent tariff on aluminum in 2018.

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