EXCLUSIVE/ Any free trade agreement between Britain and the United States will take years rather than the 90 days mooted by Donald Trump’s supporters, the former US ambassador to the EU warned the day before (26 January) British Prime Minister Theresa May meets the new president.
Professor Ted Malloch, hotly tipped to be the next US envoy to the EU, has claimed the deal could be struck in 90 days. He has also predicted that the euro could collapse within 18 months.
Both of Malloch’s claims were dismissed by Anthony Gardner, who served as US ambassador to the EU under Barack Obama’s administration.
Gardner, who was involved in EU-US talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement over the last three years, told euractiv.com, “No one knows how long a US-UK trade deal will take but it is not going to take 90 days.
“Anyone who’s suggestion is that this will be a 90 day quick, easy job will be disappointed, for reason that I think have been cited often by experts.”
“Free trade agreements take a long time, these are complicated agreements to negotiate. […] It’s going to take years.”
As well as Malloch, Trump ally Nigel Farage, the former leader of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party, has made the 90-day claim. The British government has signalled it is very much in favour of a swift deal.
But Gardner warned that that Trump’s enthusiasm for bilateral trade deals stemmed from his desire to put “America First” and that Britain would be disadvantaged in any future talks.
He said, “Now why does this president want to go bilateral? Because the leverage of the United States will always be much higher than in a deal where the United States is negotiating with a regional economic organisation like the EU or a trading bloc.
“He has quite clearly stated that he wants to protect American jobs and protect American workers and he thinks the best way of doing that is to basically buy local. Why would he then throw open the borders to competitive products from the UK that will dislocate American jobs and American workers?”
Trump recently pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific countries. Gardner criticised that decision because it would allow China to set the trade standards for the region. Environmental, worker and consumer protection would be lower, as a result, he said.
“This is another sad example of when ideology trumps common sense,” Gardner said in the interview, a full version of which can be found after the link below.
EU trade deal far from easy
May has signalled she wants Britain to leave the single market and sign a free trade agreement with the EU. But Gardner warned that any future trade talks would likely be bedevilled with the same difficulties faced in TTIP and the EU-Canada trade deal CETA.
CETA has only just reached the ratification stage after seven years of torturous talks. It was almost derailed by the government of the Belgian region of Wallonia. TTIP talks have also dragged on for years.
Gardner’s warning echoes that made by Sir Ivan Rogers, who resigned after coming under fire for saying a post-Brexit trade deal would take years.
“I have the highest respect for Ivan,” the ex-ambassador said. “He knows the EU better than many people. I think it’s important now for people to speak out to power. We have to pay respect to the facts.”
Trade will feature highly in the talks between President Trump and May tonight (26 January). Trump has promised that Britain will be at the front of the queue for a bilateral trade agreement with the UK.
May will be anxious to sure that her vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” has legs by securing backing from Trump, an avid supporter of the UK’s divorce from the EU.
But Gardner predicted that the new special relationship would be far from easy. While May has said she wants a globalised, open, liberal trade policy, Trump is far more protectionist.
“Theresa May said the UK wants to the EU survive and thrive. This president is at best indifferent to that,” Gardner said.
Under EU rules no deal with the US can be signed until Britain formally leaves the bloc. Under the expected timetable that will not happen until after a negotiation period of two years, triggered by the invoking of Article 50, the legal process to take the UK out of the EU.
Failure to respect that EU treaty obligation, that mandates that the European Commission is the sole trade negotiator on behalf of the bloc, would be “absolutely explosive” to the divorce negotiations between Britain and the EU, Gardner added.
Gifts for Trump
May will come bearing gifts — a hamper of products from the prime minister’s official country residence, Chequers, for First Lady Melania Trump and a Scottish “Quaich” cup for the president.
Downing Street said the double-handled cup has its origins in “Highland chivalry”, from a time when “clan chiefs prized them as a token of hospitality”.
Trump’s mother came from Scotland and the sprawling property empire he built up includes two Scottish golf courses.
May’s spokeswoman said the visit is intended to “establish a productive, effective relationship” with the Trump Administration.
“As the prime minister has said, the way we will approach this trade union relationship with the UK in the future is what is in the interest of the UK,” the spokeswoman said.
NATO and torture
Beyond trade, the two leaders will discuss terrorism, the ongoing war in Syria, and the NATO military alliance which Trump deemed “obsolete” ahead of taking office last Friday (20 January).
His criticism has caused alarm across the Atlantic and earlier this week May spoke to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, expressing her support for the alliance and promising to take the message to Washington.
Although Britain is keen to maintain the “special relationship” with the US, particularly in light of economic uncertainty post-Brexit, wariness of Trump remains in the UK where he has proven a controversial figure.
Last January, parliament debated banning the billionaire from Britain, sparked by a public petition which garnered nearly 600,000 signatures, following his proposal to drastically restrict US entry to people from Muslim countries if he became president.
British lawmakers discussed May’s upcoming visit on Wednesday (1 February), with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn quizzing her on the trade deal and allegations against Trump of misogyny.
“I’m not afraid to speak frankly to a president of the United States,” she replied.
Donald Trump has said that waterboarding “absolutely works”. Asked about whether she supported Trump’s comments in favour of torture, May said, “I can assure you that we have a very clear position on torture. We do not sanction torture, we do not get involved with that and that will continue to be our position.”