The Special Trading Relationship
Many supporters of Brexit hoped that leaving the EU would free the UK to agree to a trade deal with the US. President Donald Trump is certainly a supporter of Brexit and a fan of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he is not the man negotiating the trade deal – US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is.
Lighthizer will drive a hard bargain over agriculture where the oft-touted issue of chlorinated chicken will be an obstacle; and pharmaceuticals, where US drug manufacturers complain that the UK uses the market pricing power of the NHS to restrict access to drugs unless manufacturers accept low prices. Proposed taxes on US tech companies will also be a point of tension but there are fewer vested interests in the UK concerning digital taxation than agriculture. In the end, agricultural standards will be the most significant sticking point, especially considering adamant demands by Midwest senators that the UK relax its standards, where MPs face equally vocal calls to protect British farming.
Conservatives hoping that the ties of the anglosphere will overcome any such challenges should be wary of the influence of the Irish caucus in the US. Congressman Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement is a prerequisite for any US-UK trade deal. Overcoming these obstacles will require UK and US negotiators to lower their sights and pursue a narrow trade agreement, standard operating procedure for the Trump administration, with the possibility to expand at a later date.
Biden had been notably silent on US-UK trade relations until the recent furor over the Internal Market Bill when he reiterated the consistent position of the Democratic party: no trade deal with the UK if Brexit breaks the Good Friday Agreement.
In a Biden administration, the negotiator would change but the sticking point would remain the same: lower agricultural standards to help American farmers compete in the UK. One potential point of difference would be digital taxation. A Biden administration is more disposed towards multilateralism and would therefore see the OECD proposal for digital tax plans as a workable proposition that would remove one barrier to a deal with the UK.
Don’t lose sleep over concerns that Biden’s opposition to Brexit and Irish heritage would make him less inclined to strike a trade deal with the UK. Binding the UK to US trading rules is in America’s interests and will form a part of Biden’s Atlantic foreign policy as he tries to revive America’s flagging relationships with Europe.