A free-trade deal with its closest ally United States was meant to be the cornerstone of the UK’s commercial policy after it had left the European Union. But five years after a “massive” deal was promised to London by then US president Donald Trump, and two years after Brexit, a US-UK free-trade agreement seems elusive as negotiations stall. “The main reason it’s not happening is because the US doesn’t want trade deals at the moment,” said trade expert David Henig, of the European Centre for International Political Economy. “Since 2016, Washington has been anti-global trade because it believes it to be bad for its domestic manufacturing. That view hasn’t really changed with the (Joe) Biden administration.” Economist Peter Holmes, an author of a study on UK-US trade by the UK Trade Policy Observatory, said: “The Biden administration is much less interested in trade than Trump was – but it also shares a lot of views with Trump and sees industrial policy at home as the way to go”. Trump was enthusiastic about the prospects of a UK-US trade deal, analysts say, because Brexit both fitted with his own style of right-wing populism and helped weaken an economic competitor, the EU. Now with Biden in power, the prospect of a UK-US trade pact, apart from “sometimes in the context of Northern Ireland, is just not an issue that ever comes up,” Democrat Congressman Brendan Boyle told the BBC in September. Boyle is a member of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means that has the ultimate say over trade agreements. The US is the UK’s largest single trading partner, with trade reaching £201 billion (US$266 billion) in the year that ended in June 2021. The UK has trade deals and agreements in principle with more than 60 countries. “The US-UK trade deal was never going to have that much of an impact on the UK economy. It was more an act of faith to appease the hardcore Brexiteers,” Henig said. Former British PM calls actions of Johnson’s government ‘corrupt’ Most telling of the US attitude can be found on the Office of the US Trade Representative’s website. Although it states trade negotiations were launched in May 2020, “latest news” dates back to 2018 when Trump was president. Undeterred, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK’s secretary of state for international trade, went on a charm offensive to Washington this week where she met with the top US trade officials, Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. In readouts after meeting, both countries made no mention of starting negotiations for such a pact. 👋 Farewell USA. Really productive trip raising the bar for 🇺🇸🇬🇧 trade and getting the chance to: 🌍 Promote UK as the best place to do business 🤝 Bolster trade ties to support jobs 🚧 Push to remove trade barriers and boost UK exports @tradegovukUSA @UKinUSA #TradeonTour pic.twitter.com/qjQ1iO8te0 — Anne-Marie Trevelyan (@annietrev) December 8, 2021 The UK talked about “going further on UK-US trade and overcoming existing barriers”. Tai “highlighted the ongoing efforts to work together and with other partners to address the shared challenges posed by non-market policies and practices, including those of China” and talked of working on reforms to the World Trade Organization. The UK for its part, stressed the need to work together to protect jobs. Hopes that Trevelyan would persuade the US to lift tariffs on UK steel and aluminium imports on her trip were not fulfilled, despite pressure from opposition Labour politicians concerned about UK jobs. How ‘Global Britain’ is modernising its navy Trump imposed tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium from the EU in 2018. The tariffs were withdrawn in October of this year, but they remain in place for Britain because of its exit from the EU. The UK’s Department of Trade and Industry declined to comment on whether the US expressed concern that the UK’s second largest steel manufacturer, British Steel, was owned by China’s Jingye Group. Junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt, also in the US on a mission to court individual US states, has refuted a recent report in the Financial Times that Washington was linking the steel tariff issue to its concerns over Northern Ireland. The Boris Johnson government is threatening to trigger a waiver article in the Northern Ireland Protocol that settled the issue of post-Brexit trade between the north and the south of Ireland. The protocol allowed the free flow of goods between the smallest of the UK nations and the Republic of Ireland. New UK flagship: best of British or Boris Johnson vanity project? The concern was a hard border would have destabilised the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violent conflict in the province, and in whose negotiation back in the 1990s, the US was heavily involved. Under pressure from its pro-unionist allies, who believe it has been the cause of recent outbreaks of violence in Northern Ireland, Johnson’s Conservative government has threatened to trigger a clause in the protocol- Article 16 to override it – something Washington has warned against. “You don’t muck around with the Irish lobby in the US,” Henig said. Biden is himself of Irish heritage. Keen to show some trade wins with the US, the UK government has made much of deals to increase exports of Scottish whisky and the lifting of a ban on British lamb to the US, imposed because of concern about the small ruminant disease, scrapie. UK lamb exports to the US are said to be worth around £37 million (about US$49 million) over the next five years. But this is small fry compared to what was promised by Brexiteers. Even if a transatlantic trade deal was to come back on the table, the negotiations would be fraught with complex, some say unsurmountable issues. When the idea was first touted during the Trump administration, there was an outcry in the UK over fears of chlorinated chicken imports and lower US farming standards. UK wants prized US trade deal. But can it stomach chlorinated chicken? Another major concern is opening the UK health market up further to US pharmaceutical companies, which many in Britain see as a threat to the country’s beleaguered, but much-loved National Health Service. The issue of steel tariffs is however another reminder of the UK’s shrinking influence in Washington, and of Biden’s seeming preference to boost trade with the EU. “The Biden administration does seem genuinely pro-European and not just pro-Irish,” Holmes said. He said one example of this is the US push for a planned EU-US Trade and Technology Council, announced last September, with 10 working groups already established. After Scotland, talk of Wexit, Welsh independence Holmes also said the UK was completely excluded from an EU-US plan to negotiate the world’s first carbon-based sectoral arrangement on steel and aluminium trade by 2024. Again, this is designed to prevent China from undercutting domestic steel producers. “The UK is completely excluded from that,” Holmes said. “They pointedly left Britain out and that puts the UK in a peculiar position regarding carbon emissions as they risk tariffs in both the EU and US on steel for example.” The UK’s best hope is probably in Mordaunt’s mission to western and southern US states. Under the US constitution, US states cannot strike trade deals, though they can reach agreements on foreign investment and public procurement, Holmes said.