Boris Johnson has insisted that any UK-US trade deal would have to work in the interests of British business ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump at the G7 summit.
The British prime minister, who talked up the prospect of a “fantastic” deal with Mr Trump, said that some sectors of the UK economy would be completely off limits in discussions, notably the National Health Service. “We will not allow the NHS to be on the table at all,” Mr Johnson said, adding that the US would need to compromise.
“There are massive opportunities for UK companies to open up, to prise open the American market. We intend to seize those opportunities but they are going to require our American friends to compromise and to open up their approach because currently there are too many restrictions,” he said on Saturday.
Mr Johnson set out several areas in which he wanted to see trade liberalised between the UK and the US — including railway carriages, wallpaper, pillows, beef, lamb, cauliflowers, British peppers, bathroom fittings and pies.
“There are currently restrictions on the sale of British-made shower trays to the US. We’ve sold 250,000 shower trays around the world. There is some kind of bureaucratic obstacle that stops us selling them in the US because they are allegedly too low.”
“Melton Mowbray pork pies, which are sold in Thailand and in Iceland, are currently unable to enter the US market because of, I don’t know, some sort of food and drug administration restriction.
Any free trade agreement with the US that even tangentially references the NHS will struggle to get off the ground
Mr Johnson has been accused by some opponents — including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — of kowtowing to Mr Trump’s demands and being prepared to accept a UK-US deal at any cost.
French president Emmanuel Macron has warned that Britain would be a “junior partner” in any trade talks and may find itself in a place of “historic vassalisation”.
By setting out these areas of concern and opportunity for the UK, the prime minister hopes to show he will not be pushed around.
But trade experts said that the UK would struggle to assert itself in trade talks with the US, as the significantly larger American market would be more likely to set the terms of any deal.
“If any UK-US trade agreement is ever to materialise, the UK will be required to concede on the vast majority of the US’s demands,” said Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think-tank.
“However, despite the fact the US has a history of challenging the processes by which countries procure medicines as part of their trade negotiations, in this case it may prove a red line too far. Any free trade agreement with the US that even tangentially references the NHS will struggle to get off the ground.”
The prime minister also flagged British microbreweries and insurance regulation as markets in which he wanted to see closer ties between the two nations.
“If you want to sell insurance in the UK you only need to speak to two regulators. If you want to sell insurance in the US you have to speak to 50 regulators. The same point can be made about architects and many other professions.”
Mr Johnson flagged public procurement as an area in which the US has some “very tough rules indeed”, including banning British measuring tapes and rulers being sent to any branch of the US military. He said the UK would also want to see shipping and aviation cabotage liberalised between both countries.
“We are open to cabotage by US-flagged vessels here in the UK; a British shipping company cannot pick up in New York and set down in Boston,” he said.
Mr Johnson, who will have his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Trump on Sunday morning at the French seaside resort of Biarritz, said he intended to promote a “very close, friendly relationship with our most important ally”.
The prime minister added it was “very likely” that the US president was more popular in the UK than some have suggested.
“President Trump has pioneered a quite remarkable way of communicating directly with the electorate. My impression is that is also popular with large numbers of people in our country,” he said.
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