International trade minister Liz Truss has assured that there is “no set deadline” for a trade agreement between the UK and US, after backlash yesterday over US animal welfare standards cast doubt on the government’s ability to secure a quick deal.
In a statement, Truss said the government had made it clear that there is no set deadline for a transatlantic agreement, and that “quality is more important than speed” in securing a deal.
The UK has now completed its second round of trade negotiations with the US, with the next session due to take place at the end of July.
The trade secretary said talks “continued to be positive and constructive,” but warned that any trade deal must be “fair, reciprocal and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the economy”.
It comes as the government yesterday announced the launch of an independent commission to advise on post-Brexit agricultural policy, in a move widely greeted by British farmers.
Washington’s demand for greater access to the British food market as part of any trade deal had prompted a backlash from both agricultural businesses and MPs, who claimed it would allow chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef to flood the British market.
Agriculture is set to become a key battleground in UK-US trade talks, with pressure from the UK to maintain stringent animal welfare standards likely to stall negotiations.
Last month, dozens of Conservative MPs defied the whip in calling for tougher safeguards on food standards to be written into UK law in a bid to quash cheap, lower-grade imports.
In an update on the situation today, Truss said: “The government remains clear on protecting the NHS and not compromising on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.”
Securing a strong trade deal with the US will be vital to the UK’s economy after the Brexit transition period expires on 31 December.
The US is the single largest investor in the UK, with American firms already investing nearly $750bn (£610.2bn) in the British market. Likewise, the UK is also the largest investor in the US, with British companies accounting for more than 15 per cent of all inbound foreign direct investment.
The trade minister added that talks between the US and UK had focused on the future of the City.
“UK negotiators also underlined the importance of high ambition on services, with financial services particularly vital to any final agreement,” she said.
“On professional business services, both sides agreed to go further than existing precedent and agree provisions that reflect the strength of the UK-US relationship.” She added that both sides discussed how regulators could work more closely on qualifications and licensing.
It comes as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier today confirmed that the UK had missed the deadline to complete documents necessary to securing equivalence between Brussels’ and London’s financial markets.
The announcement marked a blow to the UK’s efforts to determine the City’s access to EU markets after Brexit.
Barnier added that the UK should brace for “big changes” on 1 January, including the possibility that UK firms will lose the benefit of financial services passports.
“This should not come as a surprise to you,” he added. “We have been warning you about this for the past three years.”