International embarrassment over suggestion UK would join North American trade pact

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Britain has distanced itself from an “unprofessional” and “apparently shameful” plan to try and join the North American trade deal just 24 hours after it floated the idea.

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Canadian and Mexican officials were upset after Britain was briefed that it wants to join a tripartite agreement between the US and the two countries (USMCA) as they prepare for fresh bilateral talks with London.

A senior UK government briefing during a visit to the US on Tuesday caught officials amid sensitive preparations to renegotiate bilateral deals, according to people familiar with talks on all sides of the table.


According to a person familiar with the efforts of Canadian officials preparing for renewed talks with the UK to reform hastily rolled over deals ahead of the Brexit deadline, “it’s just unprofessional, if I’m going to do it directly.” Say it.”

“On the one hand, it is ridiculous that the UK would try to join the USMCA, on the other hand, of course we have to weigh such statements in the light of serious talks with the UK and work out if there is anything behind it.”

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After confusion over the UK’s plans to join the USMCA, No 10 tried to pour cold water on the idea on Wednesday, reiterating its interest in a bilateral deal instead.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “What we are focusing on is the US deal,” the spokesman said. “There are no plans to go beyond this at this stage. That’s a priority for us.”

A separate person familiar with the Mexican and UK trade talks said there was no real possibility for the UK to join the North American trade bloc, yet it was “an extremely unhelpful statement”.

On the one hand, it is ridiculous that the UK would try to join the USMCA, on the other hand, of course we have to weigh such statements in the light of serious talks with the UK and find out if there is anything behind it.

Sources close to Canadian trade talks

“We hadn’t heard anything about it.” “It would be good to remember that there are three members of this trade group, not just the US,” he added.

Bilateral relations with Canada and Mexico are particularly sensitive to the Department of Trade, as they are also members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc in the Asia Pacific region in which the UK has officially asked to join.

Meanwhile, a person familiar with the UK’s trade talks said the opposite numbers are too liberal to look at the funny side of things, but that the UK cannot afford to “look vulgar”. He said it was “clearly embarrassing” and it was not practical for the UK to join the USMCA, citing strict rules on where goods could come from to avoid tariffs under the deal.

Diplomatic upset comes as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to visit Mexico on Thursday in an effort to boost Britain’s economic and diplomatic ties with the country and the region.

“The USMCA is clearly not a deal with the United States,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former senior economist for international trade at the White House.

“It’s also a deal with Canada and Mexico and they have to be prepared to allow the UK to join. They’ll also have terms on demand. If you’re already in the process of negotiating an agreement with them , so you can imagine that this would upset Applecart,” said Mr. Bown.

It comes as headlines about the US’s reluctance to pursue a trade deal with Britain affected Boris Johnson’s visit to the country.

A trade deal with the US was considered a major reward for post-Brexit independent trade policy, but Mr Johnson said before his meeting with US President Joe Biden that his opposite numbers “have a lot of fish to fry”. “.

Tensions over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a principle of the Brexit divorce agreement between Britain and the EU, are a significant obstacle to any bilateral deal with Britain, a US official said. Granthshala. So any deal was unlikely to be considered until after an agreed vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2024 and a US midterm election in 2022.

There are also several difficult political challenges facing the Biden administration’s domestic agenda.

“They have a massive amount of legislation that they’re trying to get through Congress, where they have little difference,” Mr Bown said. “Business in the United States right now is incredibly politically risky. It’s a heavy lift to ask any president to trade political capital with no appetite at the moment.

Some trade experts welcomed Mr Johnson’s suggestions that he would rather seek the right kind of deal with the US than rushing to a deal – if at all possible. It marks a change in the prime minister’s stance compared to a time when a deal was more likely under the Trump administration.

“USTR (US Department of Trade) are formidable. He has decades of experience negotiating far and wide around the world,” said Dr Silke Tromer, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester. “We have many wonderful people in this country, some people with great experiences, but it’s not on the same level.”

UK officials drew a parallel between the briefing and another UK media report which suggested that Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan be placed in an “inconvenient chair” at the Foreign Office, which also suggested he lacked experience in negotiating. Mr. Tehan has experience in the 1995 business policy.

Following reports about trade denials with Australia, a senior British diplomat said he was cushioned by an Australian contrasting number. British diplomats were then sent jams, with then-business secretary Liam Fox suggesting on social media that France needed “high quality, innovative British jams”.

The Canadian High Commission and the Mexican Embassy did not offer comment prior to publication.


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