Britain’s Sunak says he has not discussed the US trade deal with Biden

(Bloomberg) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he had not discussed a possible trade deal with the US during his meeting with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, suggesting that Britain has for now given up on what was once touted as one of the biggest prices of the Brexit.

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“We didn’t talk specifically about the trade deal, but we did talk about our economic partnership,” Sunak told reporters at the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

— Bloomberg UK (@BloombergUK) Nov 16, 2022

Sunak’s failure to raise the prospect of a trade deal suggests the British government is tentatively accepting that it is not at stake in the foreseeable future, despite the so-called “special relationship” often touted by the leaders of the two nations. The Prime Minister’s predecessor, Liz Truss, said in September that negotiations are not currently underway and are unlikely to begin in the near to medium term.

Liz Truss pessimistic about the UK-US trade deal in the near future

It’s a big change from 2019 and 2020, when Donald Trump’s US administration said Britain was at the forefront of reaching a trade deal. Talks began during Trump’s presidency, but were put on the backburner when Biden came to power. Instead, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has suggested free trade agreements are archaic, calling them a “very 20th century tool” and saying new approaches are needed.

Nevertheless, the first face-to-face meeting between Biden and Sunak — which was just over three weeks in office — was warm. They met in an open-air room of a luxury resort hotel, surrounded by a carp pond and tropical plants. Flanked by their delegations, the two men were sheltered from the hot midday sun by a thatched roof. They shook hands and smiled at each other. Later, an official said Biden put his arm around Sunak.

Sunak described the relationship between the two countries as “unique and enduring”.

Their discussion also touched on the importance of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal in resolving the thorny issue of the Northern Ireland protocol, which sets out post-Brexit trade arrangements for the region, said Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain. It’s an issue that Biden – who has Irish roots – has raised repeatedly in conversations with Sunak and his predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

(Updates with further context, meeting details, starting in third paragraph)

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