Now is the chance for America to strike free trade deal with Britain

Now is the chance for America to strike free trade deal with Britain
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After two years of negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her Brexit plan to a chorus of boos from across the British political spectrum. For many of us, it was every bit as bad as we had feared, stripping the United Kingdom of its rights to pursue independent trade negotiations with other countries and binding us to the policies of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels, with no right to even vote on those policies.

The shame for a sovereign nation and proud people was too much for some members of her own cabinet, two of whom have resigned in protest. Parliament is balking, and it looks increasingly unlikely that this deal with survive a meaningful vote in the House of Commons. But a vote down in the House of Commons does not automatically mean there will be no deal with the European Union. It simply means that Britain will have the political space for a reset and a completely different approach to negotiations. Time is short, but our conversations with the European Commission suggest that building on the offer to Britain can lead to a comprehensive agreement that will give Britain the authority to negotiate its own free trade deals with the United States and the rest of the world.


Of course, if Brussels remains recalcitrant and we do leave the European Union with no deal, Britain will simply be faced with the same high tariffs and discriminatory trade barriers facing other nations doing business with the European Union. Either way, the enormous upside of a reset is that for the first time in a generation, Britain will be a free agent in the world again, retaining full sovereign rights to pursue real and lasting free trade deals with whatever nation or nations we please.

First among those must be the United States. As leaders in the Brexit movement, we have come to Washington at this critical time to meet with government and industry leaders to urge rapid action on a bilateral free trade pact. The United States has already demonstrated its ability to supercharge the negotiation process, finalizing deals with Canada and Mexico in a matter of months. The United States can do the same with Britain. While “official negotiations” between our nations cannot legally begin until our formal exit from the European Union next year, all the pieces can now be put into place so a deal can be signed soon after.

Britain and the United States are in many ways ideal free trade partners. We share not just a common language, but common values of rule of law, free markets, and property rights, as well as a long history of promoting free trade among nations. The businesses in our countries employ over one million citizens from either side and we are the largest source of foreign direct investment for each other. In fact, Britain is one of the few countries with which the United States now enjoys a trade surplus.

The only outstanding issues are in those areas where Britain is currently bound by its membership in the European Union trade bloc, with its many “precautionary regulations” against agriculture and other goods. All that will vanish once we make our exit, provided we do not of our own volition lock ourselves into the regulatory orbit of the European Union. Britain and the United States can start from an entirely clean slate, taking World Trade Organization rules of fairness and scientific regulation as our standard.

The first step of that process has already begun. The Trump administration last month notified Congress of its intent to begin trade negotiations with Britain, the European Union, and Japan. While there will be a natural tendency for the United States government to concentrate efforts on the “bigger fish” of the European Union and Japan, those negotiations are bound to be extremely complex and will probably drag on for years.

There is no doubt that the United States will find negotiating with the European Union every bit as frustrating as we in Britain have found it, and that the United States in fact found it when trying to negotiate the original Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which fell apart over two years ago. European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has already started imposing harsh preconditions, warning President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE that the negotiations would grind to a halt if the United States insists that fair treatment of American agricultural goods remains on the table.

With Britain, there would be no such preconditions and no bullying on either side. We will have talks between two nations with a proud heritage of free trade and are not afraid to compete openly and fairly on a level playing field. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world what real free trade looks like, the type of trade that President Trump has urged, based on zero tariffs and zero manipulations of regulations that give one side or the other an advantage. Once they are complete, the United States will find itself with a true partner in Britain as we confront together the unfair practices of the European Union, China, and other nations.

There is a battle for the global regulatory system of the world. Will it be one in favor of competition and innovation, or will it be in the European Union model of an increasingly prescriptive regulation? Brexit is a massive global event. A major G7 nation is adopting trade policy for the first time, and a potential ally for the United States in this battle exists. The United States should seize this opportunity and not simply be a spectator.

David Davis is a British Conservative Party politician and current member of Parliament who served as the former United Kingdom secretary for exiting the European Union. Shanker Singham is director of international trade and competition at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London.