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GOP lawmaker says US-UK negotiators working 'fast and furious' on trade deal

GOP lawmaker says US-UK negotiators working 'fast and furious' on trade deal
© Greg Nash

Top officials involved in the US-UK trade partnership said Thursday that crafting a trade deal this year remains a top priority on both sides of the Atlantic, taking on new urgency as both economies struggle to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Neither British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce nor Congressional UK Caucus co-chair Rep. George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingRundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Democrat Deborah Ross wins open seat in North Carolina, flipping seat Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage MORE (R-N.C.) committed to a firm timeline for the deal in their remarks at The Hill’s “Global Trade's Evolution” event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention, but they both lauded progress so far on an agreement.

Holding told The Hill’s Steve Clemons that negotiators are working “fast and furious” on the deal and that U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerWhiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 MORE has it as a “main focus.” 

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“For a trade agreement to endure, it has to be a win-win for both sides,” said Holding, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. “A prosperous United Kingdom is good for making a prosperous United States and vice versa.”

Two rounds of formal negotiations took place in May and June, with a goal of completing a deal this year, a priority for the UK since it left the European Union in January. The Financial Times reported in July, however, that UK negotiators had abandoned hopes of a deal before the U.S. presidential election due to disagreements over agricultural imports.

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Both sides have roughly 100 officials going through various chapters of the deal, and are finding agreement on small- and medium-sized businesses, Pierce said.

“Both sides are negotiating well — we’ll have to see where we eventually get to, but we really want to go at pace this autumn,” she said at Thursday's event.

Pierce acknowledged negotiations have been complicated by the pandemic, but said the deal offers opportunities to both countries on the economic recovery front.

“One of the important things as we face the COVID pandemic is to try and get the world economy moving again, and free trade agreements can absolutely do that,” she said. “That's one reason why we attach so much importance to our free trade agreement with our closest partner, the United States.”

The longtime allies are already top trading partners, but Lighthizer has committed to crafting a “comprehensive” new trade deal, especially after Brexit.

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Both Holding and Pierce said the pandemic underscored the importance of ensuring supply chains for critical goods remain in allied countries.

“We’ve learned the lesson that we cannot become dependent for critical needs, our critical supply chains, on countries that perhaps are not going to be our friends,” said Holding, who is retiring at the end of this congressional term. “This is a great opportunity for the United States and the United Kingdom — the pharmaceutical industry is a perfect example of where our two countries work incredibly well together.”

Pierce said the deal could set a “gold standard” for the future in how it deals with rapidly evolving sectors of the economy. Traditionally, trade deals have been focused on commodities, but Pierce noted the new deal would have to address blockchains, driverless cars, and quantum technology.

“With the world economy changing, with the new innovations in technology and life sciences, with a much greater focus on digital and data, trade agreements are going to need to keep up,” she said. “We have to have a trade agreement that's looking forward to the future and isn’t just based on the goods of the past, even though some of those will still be very important.”