US commerce secretary says UK should use Brexit to ditch EU's protectionism and become US' number one trade partner

Catherine Neilan
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Ross says Trump wants a "free, fair and reciprocal" trading relationship (Source: Getty)

The US could become the UK's "number one trading partner worldwide" after Brexit - if we ditch "protectionist" policies and the EU's approach to standards and regulations, Wilbur Ross has said.

Speaking at the annual CBI conference this afternoon, the commerce secretary said under President Trump the US was seeking a trade policy that was "free, fair and reciprocal". Asked about the ongoing issues surrounding Bombardier, he said "even our best friends must abide by the rules", but stressed this was no impediment to the relationship.

Ross said: "We want more trade and more investment, and we want to be your number one trading partner worldwide. We can make this happen because of our shared interests and our strong commitments to one another."

But there were several "key hindrances" that US business wanted dropped, such as a lack of access to the standard-setting and regulatory processes, barriers to trade and investment in digital sectors and high tariffs in sectors such as cars.

"It is important that an eventual Brexit agreement takes into account our commercial interests and does not hinder development of a closer post-Brexit US-UK relationship by continuing divergence standards and regulations and other protectionist measures," Ross said. "Remember the EU talks free trade but actually is highly protectionist."

He added: "As the UK stands on the edge of major changes coming with Brexit, we stand ready to use this opportunity to support our friends across the pond and deepen our ties even further."

The US has been holding "preliminary scoping discussions" for a future trade relationship, ahead of the UK's departure from the European Union, when formal trade talks can begin, Ross said. The group first met in Washington in July and was due to meet in London next week.

"I am confident this dialogue will bear fruit and put us in a good position for eventual trade talks," Ross said, noting there were "likely near-term developments in individual sectors, such as aviation".

Ross was one of several public figures, including the Queen, to have been identified in the Paradise Papers leak this weekend.

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