A British exit from the EU would see it lose its chance to strike a preferential trade relationship with the US, and leave it facing the same tariffs and other restrictions as emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India, the top US trade official has warned.
Advocates of a “Brexit” — over which the UK is due to vote by the end of 2017 — have argued that were the UK to leave the EU it could negotiate its own trade agreements with the US and other major trading partners.
But Mike Froman, the US trade representative, poured cold water on that idea on Wednesday, warning that the US would have little interest in negotiating any such agreement.
In an interview with Reuters he said that the US was now focusing on regional trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other economies, and separate negotiations with the EU, including the UK.
Washington was therefore “not particularly in the market” for a trade agreement with a single nation like the UK, he said.
“I think it is absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity.”
If the UK left the EU it would also lose out on any benefits that might come out of the trade talks between Washington and Brussels.
“We have no [trade agreement] with the UK so they would be subject to the same tariffs — and other trade-related measures — as China, or Brazil or India,” Mr Froman said.
President Barack Obama and US officials have expressed their desire for the UK to stay in the EU. On the sidelines of a G7 summit in June, Mr Obama praised the UK’s leadership in the EU and said the US was “looking forward to the United Kingdom staying a part of the European Union because we think that its influence is positive not just for Europe but also for the world”.
Mr Froman’s intervention is more pointed because it is aimed at one of the main economic arguments made by Brexit advocates.
His comments also highlight how an exit could test one of Britain’s biggest economic relationships.
The US is the UK’s top trading partner outside the EU, accounting for more than £30bn in British exports in the first eight months of this year.
British exports to US in first eight months of this year
Under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership the vast majority of tariffs and many other trade barriers would be eliminated across the Atlantic. But were the UK to leave the EU it would lose access to any benefits of the mooted agreement.
That would leave British-made cars such as Jaguars facing tariffs while German ones could gain tariff-free entry to the US.It could also leave British banks, insurers and legal firms missing out on any benefits accorded to EU rivals.
EU and US negotiators last week completed their 11th round of talks, which were launched in 2013. Both sides are eager to complete negotiations before Mr Obama leaves office in January 2017, although officials close to the talks say that target is ambitious.
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