The UK will try to add new provisions on climate change and environmental standards in US trade negotiations in a bid to woo incoming President Joe Biden.
Trade secretary Liz Truss wants to build on current negotiations with the Donald Trump administration and potentially add things like enhanced protections on air pollution and corporate transparency on climate change to coax Biden’s team to the negotiating table.
Trade negotiations are in “advanced stages”, more than 50 per cent of the deal is believed to be completed, with the trade secretary previously declaring her aim was to get a deal done by June.
Boris Johnson has emphasised his government’s green credentials, and role as host of the Cop 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference this year, in early talks with Biden to try and forge a strong relationship with the President-elect.
Alok Sharma reportedly left his job as business secretary last week to focus solely on running Cop 26, after Biden’s team told Johnson that more needed to be done to prepare for the landmark conference.
Any bid to beef up environmental protections in UK-US trade talks will be seen as an extension of this effort to get close to Biden.
A senior International Trade Department source said “it’s no secret that we need to tick key political boxes to get a deal over the line with Biden” and that “the environment and climate change definitely will tick those boxes”.
Biden appointed Katherine Tai as his new US Trade Representative last month, but it will take at least a couple of months for her to get confirmed by the US Senate.
Truss and other trade minsters have not yet had any contact with Tai, but are hoping to travel to the US to meet her shortly after she is confirmed by the Senate.
In the meantime civil servants are continuing dialogue on the deal.
Some of the key areas in negotiations are US agricultural exports, digital and financial services and visa access for businesspeople travelling in either direction.
A source close to Truss said: “The deal is at a stage where it can be adapted to the new administration and there’s particular scope to go further in environment and climate change now.
“We have a very good relationship with US officials, the SME chapter is ready to go and we really are in advanced stages of negotiations.”
The UK government has been aiming to get the deal done by June when the US’ Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority, which prevents Senators from amending agreed trade deals, runs out.
This has been seen as potentially unrealistic, with the Telegraph reporting in November that Biden would not be prioritising trade deals in his first 100 days as president.
Sam Lowe, trade expert at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said: “It remains unlikely that the Biden administration will prioritise new trade agreements with anyone in his first year, including the UK. However, were it to engage in trade talks the Biden administration would certainly be more receptive to including provisions on climate change in the text.”
A Department of International Trade spokesperson said: “We look forward to working with the incoming administration on our shared priorities from climate change to trade and security.
“Significant progress has already been made on our trade negotiations and the UK stands ready to build on this and strengthen the economic partnership between our two countries.”