Striking a trade deal with the U.K. is not on the U.S.’s list of priorities, Trade Representative Mike Froman said, echoing President Barack Obama’s pre-Brexit vote warning that a decision to leave the European Union would push Britain to the “back of the queue.”
Froman, the White House’s top trade negotiator, also poured scorn on the idea put forward by the U.K.’s pro-Brexit camp that the country can immediately start discussing deals with other parts of the world.
“The U.K. first and foremost needs to focus on how to define its future relationship with the EU and that will be its overwhelming preoccupation and it’s really impossible for anybody else to negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.K. until you know what is its competence,” Froman said in an interview in New York.
During the referendum campaign, Brexit supporters such as now-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain outside the EU would be free to swiftly pursue its own trade deals with the rest of the world. They criticized Obama’s intervention as part of a slew of tactics aimed at scaring voters into choosing to remain in the bloc.
Three months after the U.K.’s vote to leave, European leaders are urging Prime Minister Theresa May to make clear her vision for Britain’s future EU ties. She has yet to trigger the bloc’s Article 50 to fire the starting pistol on two years of negotiations for withdrawal.
Focus on TTIP
Obama’s warning, made in London in April, that the U.K. would be at the back of the line for a U.S. trade deal is now “in reality the case,” Froman said, adding that the British government needs to concentrate on working out how it will trade with the EU in the future.
“Is it in a customs union with the European Union? Does it have control over its tariffs? Does it have control over its regulations?” he said. “And those are still issues that are to be worked out between London and the other European capitals.”
The U.S. is focusing on negotiations on the proposed trade pact with the EU, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Froman said. The U.K. would have been part of TTIP had it not opted to leave the bloc.
“It’s absolutely clear, we have a very special relationship with the U.K., we’re going to want to find ways to maintain and strengthen and deepen that trade and investment relationship over time but right now our priority is to get TTIP done,” Froman said. “Their priority, understandably and importantly, is in figuring out the answers to those questions about what their relationship with the European Union is going to be.”