EghtesadOnline: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said he would offer the U.K. a quick and “fair” trade deal when he meets Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after taking office, as he signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations.
“We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” Trump said in an interview with the Times of London conducted by Michael Gove, a former Conservative Cabinet minister who was one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign. “We’re gonna get something done very quickly.”
According to Bloomberg, the U.K., which plans to start two years of negotiations to leave the European Union by the end of March, cannot strike new trade deals on its own until it has left the EU, or at least left the bloc’s customs union. Still, Trump’s comments are likely to buoy May’s government, which is trying to show European counterparts that it can prosper outside the EU in order to strengthen its negotiating position. The pound recouped some of its losses after falling below $1.20.
Trump’s stance contrasts with that of outgoing President Barack Obama, who said during the referendum campaign that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for any trade accord if it voted to leave the bloc. May’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, on Monday told reporters in London that the U.K. welcomes Trump’s remarks, and that the premier will hold “early discussions” on a trade deal when she visits the U.S.
“That highlights one of the opportunities of the U.K. leaving the EU,” Bower said. “We will be having scoping discussions to look at the areas where we can benefit.”
Trump’s warmth toward Britain, which he says will benefit from its divorce from Europe, contrasts with scorn for NATO, the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. He forecast other countries would leave the 28-nation bloc, which he described as a “vehicle for Germany," and said leaving would be good for Britain.
Signaling a further shift in relations between the U.S. and Europe, Trump also said he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear-weapons reduction deal. He spoke to Germany’s Bild alongside the Times.
His comments on the outlook for a U.K. trade deal may also make it more attractive for Britain to leave the customs union, the trading arrangement that all EU countries belong to but which also includes non-EU members. Those favoring a clean break from the bloc want May to exit the customs union, a move that would free the government’s hand to have trade talks but also impose costs on exporters. The pound, which dipped below $1.20 in early Asian trading for the first time since October, recouped some of its losses after the interview was published and traded at $1.2037 in mid-morning in London.
May is due to outline her vision for Brexit on Tuesday, and newspapers reported at the weekend that she would signal a willingness to leave the single market if that’s the price of being able to clamp down on immigration. She sent her two most senior aides on a secret trip to the U.S. in December and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, another pro-Brexit figure who sees Britain’s future in free-trade deals beyond Europe, visited Trump’s team last week.
Johnson welcomed Trump’s comments as he arrived for a meeting of fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, saying it was “great to hear” from the president-elect.
‘Very good news’
“I think it’s very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast,” Johnson told reporters.
Yet even if the U.K. does leave the customs union before quitting the EU, a trade deal would take years to negotiate, if previous efforts are a guide. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, bilateral trade deals with the U.S. have taken an average of three and a half years to be implemented.
Still, Trump said he wouldn’t waste any time, and would meet May soon.
“She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House,” the Times quoted him as saying. “I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”