LONDON – UK PM Boris Johnson is expected to make known the Government’s stance pertaining to US trade talks in early March, which is widely anticipated to feature a “push back” on some of the US demands, such as a request to be granted greater access to the British market for its drug and health firms, The Telegraph reported on Sunday.
Regarding US concerns over the UK’s relentless stance on food and agricultural standards, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice was quoted as doubling back on earlier voiced resistance to importing chemically-treated chicken from the US.
The official said there were no plans to open the doors to imports of chlorine-treated poultry, which is illegal in the UK, but generally adopted a more conciliatory tone.
“There is room for a sensible discussion here [with the US] because we also use lactic acids for some species, notably on beef, though not poultry,” added Eustice.
The UK government’s moves to kick-start talks on US trade come against the backdrop of Downing Street’s reported frustration with the European Union, whose leaders have been calling into question whether a trade deal could possibly be agreed upon before the end of the year.
French President Emmanuel Macron stated at the weekend that he was “not sure” a deal could be struck by December 31, when the Brexit transition period is scheduled to end. The French leader also went on record as anticipating EU-UK talks would be “tense”, with fishing rights one of the “bones of contention”.
“I am not sure that an agreement will be reached between now and the end of the year… Anyway, it is going to become more and more tense because [the British] are very hard,” Macron said in Paris at a meeting with fishermen.
While both Britain and Brussels are set to unveil their negotiating mandates this week, ahead of talks scheduled for early March, the UK Government is expected to seek a Canada-style trade deal that would allow the country to diverge from EU rules regarding tax rules and state subsidies.
Brussels, however, is believed to have been showing resistance to Johnson’s demand for a Canada-style agreement. Under that deal, hammered out over the course of seven years, import tariffs on most goods were eliminated between the two countries, while leaving customs and VAT checks in place.
Michel Barnier, the European Union’s Chief Negotiator during the talks about the Brexit finalization, has warned that the United Kingdom cannot hope to rely on “high-quality” market access if it persists in diverging from European Union social and environmental standards.
On the weekend it had been reported that Johnson’s Brexit team was elaborating plans to “get around” the Northern Ireland protocol, working on proposals to ensure that there do not need to be checks on goods passing from Britain through Northern Ireland, and thus providing Downing Street with leeway in the standoff with Brussels.
As the UK Government gears up to set out its detailed demands for a trade deal this Thursday, Downing Street issued a plea that the EU should not “waste time”.
“We left the EU on the 31st of January in line with the referendum result. We regain full independence for the people of the UK at the end of this year: the negotiation is about defining the terms on which we do that… As a wise man once said, please don’t waste this time,” a Downing Street source was quoted by the outlet as saying.