ROME (Reuters) – Britain does not know when it might get a full trade deal with the United States but is hoping to join a Trans-Pacific trade partnership next year, British trade minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said on Wednesday.
Trevelyan only took up her post last month and met many of her key counterparts face-to-face for the first time earlier this week, including U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, at a gathering of ministers from the Group of 20 major economies.
Both Britain and the United States want a free trade deal, but there is no timetable yet for talks, Trevelyan told Reuters.
“We haven’t got a date in the diary. What we have got is a continuing dialogue on the opportunity to look sector by sector on those key areas that we know will fall into that full, comprehensive deal in full course,” Trevelyan said.
The British government once touted a trade accord with the United States as one of the biggest prizes of leaving the European Union, but since Joe Biden’s election as U.S. president, the prospect of a swift deal has all but disappeared as his administration conducts a wider review of trade policies.
“Free trade deals are monstrous, monstrous documents and you can work on separate chapters and make good progress on those while thinking about the whole picture,” Trevelyan said.
However, the minister said London hoped to sign up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in 2022.
The CPTPP trade pact removes 95% of tariffs between its 11 members — Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.
“Hopefully we will be able to tie it down next year, which is very exciting,” the minister said.
Joining the CPTPP in its current format could add less than 0.1% of pre-pandemic gross domestic product over the long term, according to British government modelling. But ministers say it locks in market access and is an important way to gain influence in a region increasingly dominated by China.
London is also looking to shore up trade with old European Union partners, which suffered at the start of the year when Britain exited the bloc’s single market and customs union.
Latest data from Italy showed that British imports were down 9.9% in August year-on-year – the only major nation to see a decline. By contrast, imports from Russia rose 107%, from China 42.5%, from India 87.3% and from the United States 17.4% as global trade recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
The British trade department said on Wednesday it would pursue a new partnership with Italy to promote trade.
Recent data also suggests that Britain is on course to lose its status as one of Germany’s top 10 trading partners this year for the first time since 1950.
Trevelyan said trade disruption was a temporary phenomenon.
“The logistics of changing systems that businesses have had to learn to use … post Brexit have triggered a few issues that have mostly been ironed out,” she said.
In a statement ahead of this week’s G20 meeting in southern Italy, Trevelyan said she would push her counterparts to support a reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and complained about “market-distorting practices” of other countries — criticism that is regularly directed at G20 member China.
“Some (delegations) were in very entrenched positions and some were clearly in positions that had moved forward,” Trevelyan said, without giving further details.
(Additional reporting by William James in London; editing by Philippa Fletcher)