The UK is aiming to get a US trade deal completed by midway next year, according to international trade secretary Liz Truss.
Truss revealed the deadline on trade talks during a virtual Spectator event today, saying any potential deal will need to be agreed before the US Congress’ power to approve trade deals expires mid-2021.
A potential UK trade deal with the US would be seen as a large victory for the government as it pursues its post-Brexit “Global Britain” agenda.
However, Truss said she would not agree to a deal with the US unless it is advantageous to the UK.
“The point is we won’t do a deal just to hit a deadline, but of course a deadline can be good for focusing minds,” she said.
“Of course, if the other parties are unreasonable we’re not going to say ‘fine we’ll sign up to your terms’.
“We’re only going to do a deal with the US if it improves on [the current UK-US] trading relationship and gives more of what the UK wants.”
Some of the most contentious issues in trade talks are around agricultural exports and whether the UK will adopt American food standards.
The US allows producers to engage in practices such as injecting beef with hormones and rinsing chicken with chlorine – both of which the US government insists is safe, but the EU says is not.
There has been opposition to embracing the practices in the UK to get a trade deal, however Truss said the government would not reduce its food standards in any agreement.
“What isn’t helpful is scare stories about hormone beef and chlorinated chicken when it’s already banned in the UK anyway,” she said.
“We’ve imported all the EU laws on food standards…those remain.”
Another potential barrier to a deal is the UK’s digital services tax, which sees some large multinational online firms – such as social media sites – hit with a tax on revenues they generate from British customers.
The US has said in the past that it will not agree to any trade deal with the UK while it has this tax in place.
Sam Lowe, a trade policy adviser at the Centre for European Reform, said the Donald Trump administration sees the tax “as a discriminatory attack on US tech companies”.
“It has already threatened retaliatory tariffs on British exports if it comes into effect,” he said.
“The US is unlikely to back down on the issue even if there is a Biden presidency, and is unlikely to strike a trade deal with the UK if it is in place.”