UK and US close to deal on cutting tariffs, says White House trade chief

The UK and the United States are hoping to reach an agreement on reducing trade tariffs, according to Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative in Donald Trump’s outgoing administration.

In an interview with the BBC, Lighthizer said he was in talks with the UK’s international trade secretary, Liz Truss, which could remove hefty tariffs imposed by the US on goods including Scotch whisky.

“I’m hopeful we can get some kind of an agreement out you know, we don’t have a lot of time left,” Lighthizer said.

His comments come just days after the UK dropped EU tariffs on plane manufacturer Boeing, setting it at odds with the rest of the bloc, in the hope of securing a quick post-Brexit trade deal with Washington.

The US and EU have been locked in a long-running trade dispute over subsidies to Airbus, Boeing’s bitter European rival, and the US planemaker.

The EU imposed retaliatory tariffs on US imports totalling $4bn (£3bn) after a ruling from the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the US had given illegal state aid to Boeing.

The WTO had previously also ruled that EU governments – including the UK, France and Germany – had given illegal state aid to Airbus. As a result, UK goods such as Scotch whisky and woollen jumpers were hit with 25% tariffs levied by the US.

However, the US trade representative suggested the UK’s decision to abandon tariffs on Boeing did not go far enough, and was not considered to be a concession, because after leaving the EU, Britain would not have the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on the US.

Discussions surrounding a UK-US trade deal range much wider than aerospace or the provision of subsidies.

The US has long targeted better access to UK agriculture, although the UK government announced in November that it would not allow chlorinated chicken from the US, or hormone-fed beef, on to UK supermarket shelves.

This was seen as a refusal of US demand for animal welfare standards to be lowered as part of a trade deal.

“The US needs to get additional access to the agricultural market in the UK – that’s an important part of it; each side has to get something out of it,” Lighthizer said.

He added “These are complicated technical issues. And they’re the kinds of things that will be worked out, I think, in the final stages of negotiation.”

Despite various potential obstacles, Lighthizer said he believed they could be “sorted out here probably in the next two or three weeks or so…”

With just over a month until president-elect Joe Biden’s administration takes over, time is running out for Donald Trump’s team to strike a deal with the UK.

Lighthizer said there was “no reason why the US and the UK can’t get to a deal fairly expeditiously” once certain issues have been resolved.

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