Boris Johnson on Sunday played down expectations of concluding a quick UK-US trade deal after his first meeting as British prime minister with Donald Trump, saying any agreement would require America to make compromises.
Although Mr Johnson said he would “love” to agree a deal “within a year”, he acknowledged there would be significant challenges to overcome if an agreement was going to be finalised rapidly after Britain leaves the EU.
“I don’t think people realise quite how protectionist sometimes the US market can be, Mr Johnson told ITV after he held a breakfast meeting with Mr Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz.
“But what I’m saying to Donald . . . this is a big opportunity for both of us but we need some movement and we need to see movement from the US side.”
Mr Johnson at the weekend set out many areas where he wanted to see the US curtail restrictions on UK companies selling goods and services to America — ranging from cauliflowers and pork pies to train carriages and shower trays.
“There are massive opportunities for UK companies to open up, to prise open the American market,” he said. “We intend to seize those opportunities but they are going to require our American friends to compromise and to open up their approach because currently there are too many restrictions.”
Mr Johnson also reiterated that some sectors of the British economy would be off-limits in any UK-US trade deal — notably the National Health Service.
A British government official said the president acknowledged in the meeting with Mr Johnson that the NHS would not form part of an agreement.
Mr Trump said that the US would “do a very big trade deal, bigger than we've ever had with the UK”.
He described the EU as an “anchor” around the UK’s “ankle” that would at some point no longer be there.
Although Mr Trump has talked up the prospects of the US striking a trade deal with the UK, any agreement may struggle to secure the approval of Congress if Britain leaves the EU without a deal on October 31 and checks and infrastructure are restored at the Irish border.
Mr Johnson has been accused by some political opponents, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, of kowtowing to Mr Trump’s demands and being prepared to accept a UK-US trade deal at any price.
French president Emmanuel Macron has warned that Britain would be a “junior partner” in any trade talks and might find itself in a place of “historic vassalisation”.
Experts said the UK would struggle to assert itself in trade negotiations with the US, as the significantly larger American market would be more likely to set the terms of any deal.
“If any UK-US trade agreement is ever to materialise, the UK will be required to concede on the vast majority of the US’s demands,” said Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank.
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