Back of the Queue? No UK-U.S. Trade Deal Until at Least 2024, as Biden Prioritises China: Report

US Vice President Joe Biden (R) shakes hands with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, February 14, 2012. Xi, who arrived in Washington on Monday, is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2013. Chinese presidents generally serve two five-year …
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

A free trade agreement between the United States and the UK is unlikely to be signed until at least 2024, as the Biden administration is set to focus on China and domestic issues, American sources told a British broadsheet.

The pro-Brexit former President Donald Trump had championed a UK-U.S. deal; however, the crucial agreement for Britain has reportedly been put on the backburner by the famously anti-British 77-year-old Democrat.

A former U.S. Trade Representatives Office official (USTR), who has worked with Biden’s Trade Representative nominee, told The Daily Telegraph: “It [a UK deal] is going to be some years at a minimum.”

“You might not get to it in the first term. I predict they’ll do it, but there’s a material chance they don’t,” the source added.

“It would be a mistake to assume this (the UK negotiations) continues. I’m sceptical they’re going to move forward from what I’ve seen and heard,” the former official continued.

Another former American trade official told the paper: “They’re not going to pursue something that’s not essential to what he [Mr Biden] is doing. The UK has already asked us questions, what does this mean for us? I think there’s a chance it [a deal] doesn’t happen at all [under Biden].”

The officials said that U.S. trade efforts will focus on China rather than on signing individual free trade agreements, with little will in the Democrat-controlled Congress to push for trade deals in general.

Former President Trump, a longstanding supporter of the pro-sovereignty Brexit movement, championed UK free trade agreement efforts during his presidency. However, amid persistent extensions to the official departure from the European Union, a general lack of emphasis by the British government, and ultimately the Chinese coronavirus, a deal was never signed.

Biden, for his part, has long expressed his opposition to Brexit and may be looking to fulfil former President Barack Obama’s warning that Britain would go to the “back of the queue” if the country voted for independence from the EU.

Last week, the Democrat administration published a 308-page trade agenda dossier, listing four potential free trade deals, with the UK being listed last behind Kenya, Japan, and the European Union.

A former Trump White House official told the paper: “A lot of progress was made [under Trump]. They should be able to build on that and convert.

“But these things are really hard to close. A deal would be good for America and good for the UK but you need political buy-in to get it done.

“I’d say the earliest they get back to looking at this in earnest is not until the end of the year. It might go the entire [Biden] term. The focus is China.”

While the legislature in America has the final say on all trade deals, the executive branch has wide authority to seek agreements under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). The current iteration of the TPA is set to expire in July, meaning that the Biden administration would have to notify the Congress of its intention to sign a deal with the UK by April.

Mr Biden’s Trade Representative nominee, Katherine Tai — the Mandarin-speaking Chinese heritage chief trade counsel for the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives — has all but quashed this possibility, stating that she would need to review all previous negotiations under the Trump administration before going forward.

A U.S.-UK deal also faces resistance from some Democrats in Congress. Irish heritage Philidelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, which spearheads trade talks, accused the UK of demonstrating “wanton disregard” for international law in Northern Ireland.

“Certainly the continued provocations around the Northern Ireland Protocol, obviously make it very difficult to commence a U.S.-UK trade deal,” Boyle said.

Mr Biden, who has also been keen on highlighting his Irish ancestry, has warned that if the UK’s actions in Northern Ireland jeopardise the Good Friday peace agreement, then trade between the UK and the U.S. would suffer.

The criticism of the UK comes despite the widespread condemnation for the EU after the bloc attempted to impose a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK amid the ongoing coronavirus vaccine disputes.

Brexit leader Nigel Farage has previously said that Biden “is keener on the relationship with Ireland than he is with us, sees Brexit as a mistake and I do not see any prospect of a free trade deal with the USA under President Joe Biden”.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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