Wednesday 8 January 2020 7:08 am

DEBATE: Should we pursue a trade deal with the EU and the US at the same time?

Michael Haston is chief executive of Leonne International.
and Eliot Wilson
Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official.

Should the government pursue a US trade deal and negotiate with the EU at the same time?

YES, says Michael Haston, chief executive of Leonne International.

As we reach the brink of the UK’s long-debated departure from the EU, the finer details of a trade deal are still very much up for debate. Businesses cannot afford to wait any longer for clarity on our future trade situation with other countries, and negotiations for new deals should be an equally high priority.

As it stands, there is quite simply no better opportunity than to align ourselves with one of the world’s most influential nations, the US, while maintaining a strong relationship with our European friends.  

 Despite warning from industry experts, the UK economy has remained strong: our tech and financial industries have soared in recent years, and Britain currently leads the rest of the world in fintech investment and development. Regardless of recent political uncertainties, we remain one of the world’s leading industry innovators, and we should capitalise on our current position. Pursuing a strong and mutually beneficial deal with the US while we navigate the complicated situation with the EU is imperative.

NO, says Eliot Wilson, head of research at Right Angles and a former House of Commons official.

Politics is the art of the possible. When the UK leaves the EU this year, it will be the first time in nearly 50 years that we will be negotiating independent trade deals as a nation without treaty ties. 

We are desperately short of relevant expertise. When the Department for International Trade was set up in 2017, we had to go as far as New Zealand to find a chief negotiator, Crawford Falconer. So the early days of “real” Brexit will be an exercise in learning and — crucially — prioritising.

The EU is of course important, but the US is an obvious target for our first major trade deal. America is the largest economy in the world, our largest export market, and the biggest source of FDI in the UK. We share a language and an “Anglo Saxon” economic model, and currently have a sympathetic ear in the White House.

It’s Sophie’s Choice, but if we have to choose between Washington and Brussels, we simply have to go to DC first. Trying to do both at once could result in achieving neither.

Main image credit: Getty

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