Last reviewed 6 May 2020

The proposed trade agreement with the United States that featured so prominently during the Brexit debate has moved a step closer to reality with the launch of the first round of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.

International Secretary of State Liz Truss and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have hailed discussions via a video conference call to start what is expected to be two weeks of talks involving around 100 negotiators on each side.

According to Ms Truss, all areas set out in the UK’s negotiation objectives will be covered including goods and services, digital trade, investment and supporting SMEs. The UK also aims to protect the NHS and to continue to uphold high standards on food safety and animal welfare.

Further rounds will take place approximately every six weeks and will be carried out remotely until it is safe to travel.

“The US is our largest trading partner and increasing transatlantic trade can help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by coronavirus,” the International Trade Secretary said. “We want to strike an ambitious deal that opens up new opportunities for our businesses, brings in more investment and creates better jobs for people across the whole of the country.”

Welcoming the start of negotiations, British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Director General Adam Marshall said: “Companies will welcome the focus on helping more UK SMEs grow their trade with partners in the US, and on finding ways to move goods, people and data across borders between the two countries more smoothly.”

While CBI Deputy Director-General Josh Hardie pointed out that the attention of most employers is focused on getting through the COVID-19 crisis, he agreed that the talks offer “a sign of hope” to businesses.

A CBI report, “A roaring trade: Capitalising on the opportunities of a UK-US Free Trade Agreement”, can be found at https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/4614/a-roaring-trade-capitalising-on-the-opportunities-of-a-uk-us-fta.pdf.

Press reports have suggested that the UK sees these talks as also helping to put pressure on the EU as those negotiations approach their crucial June deadline.

However, the Government’s own estimates suggest that eliminating tariffs and reducing other trade barriers with the US could boost the economy by between no more than 0.07% and 0.16% over the next five years, depending on the exact terms.