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US offers UK quick sector-by-sector post-Brexit trade deals

Robert Hutton, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

LONDON -- National security adviser John Bolton said the U.S. was ready to offer Britain sector-by-sector trade deals to help the country after a no-deal departure from the European Union.

On a visit Monday to London, Bolton met the U.K.'s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, with a message of support from President Donald Trump.

"The main purpose of this visit, really, is to convey President Trump's desire to see a successful exit from the EU for the U.K. on Oct. 31," Bolton told reporters afterward. "To offer to be involved in any way that we can and to express his hope that we can have a fully comprehensive bilateral trade agreement with the U.K. as soon as possible."

Bolton said such a deal could be done "in a lot of different ways." He said that to speed negotiations up, the two countries could agree to "bits and pieces at first," with a "comprehensive agreement to follow." His message, he said, was "We're with you."

In other comments, Bolton said:

-- Any U.S.-U.K. trade deal would receive "overwhelming bipartisan support" in both houses of Congress.

-- The U.S. doesn't want to put the U.K. "under pressure" on whether to allow Huawei Technologies Co. to play a role in 5G networks.

-- The British government is looking at the Huawei question "from square one."

-- The U.S. welcomes the U.K.'s involvement in its mission to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Brexit talks are currently at an impasse. Johnson has rejected the Withdrawal Agreement that his predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated, and the EU has said that it won't reopen it. If nothing changes, Britain will leave the EU without a deal Oct. 31, something economists and government officials warn could causes severe economic damage.

 

Bolton's offer to "carve out" areas where Britain and America could negotiate trade deals "very quickly" is designed to boost Johnson's argument that Britain could see benefits from a no-deal Brexit. Bolton rejected the idea that trade talks would take years.

In a direct rebuke to former President Barack Obama, who in 2016 warned that Britain outside the EU would find itself at the "back of the queue" for a U.S. trade deal, Bolton said: "To be clear, in the Trump administration, Britain is at the front of the trade queue -- or 'line,' as we say."

Asked which sectors he had in mind for fast deals, Bolton cited manufacturing, including carmakers. He said there was a potential "enormous benefit" from a financial services deal, but that this was "complex," and so might not be the first on the list.

Despite the warmth of Bolton's words, he acknowledged he wasn't fully familiar with the details of the trade issues. He said that despite getting a friend to explain Britain's concerns about including its state-run National Health Service in trade talks, he didn't understand them. And he brushed aside warnings that a no-deal Brexit might put Northern Ireland's peace agreement in danger.

A British official familiar with the U.K.'s security position, who declined to be identified, also questioned Bolton's assertion that Britain was reexamining its policy toward Huawei from first principles.

(c)2019 Bloomberg News

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