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UK mandate for US trade deal nods at Gib interest

By Brian Reyes and agencies

The UK Government yesterday recognised the interest that Gibraltar and other Overseas Territories had in potential future post-Brexit trade agreements and said it would ensure this was “properly taken into account” during negotiations.

The commitment was included in a 184-page document in which the UK Government unveiled its mandate for trade talks with the United States, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to drive a hard bargain in negotiations that are set to test their "special relationship".

After leaving the European Union in January, Mr Johnson wants to pursue a trade deal with Washington to try to not only champion Britain's new independence but also to put pressure on the bloc in separate talks on a future relationship.

As a negotiating team headed to Brussels on Monday to start those discussions, the UK Government set out its mandate for talks with the US, warning that London would walk away if its demands are not met.

The UK said it wanted to achieve "huge gains" by removing barriers to trade but that its much-loved National Health Service would not be on the table in talks, and that its food standards would be maintained.

That could set the two sides on a collision course, putting additional pressure on a relationship already strained by London's decision to allow China's Huawei a limited role in its 5G mobile network and a proposed digital services tax.

"We have the best negotiators in the business and of course, we're going to drive a hard bargain to boost British industry," Mr Johnson said.

"Most importantly, this transatlantic trade deal will reflect the unique closeness of our two great nations."

The negotiating mandate includes a section in which the UK Government acknowledged that its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories also had a keen eye on developments relating to future trade deals.

“We recognise the interest in potential UK FTAs from the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar, and remain fully committed to engaging them as we develop our independent trade policy for the UK,” the mandate published yesterday said.

“The Secretary of State for International Trade made this commitment clear in his letter to the Chief Ministers of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories at the launch of the consultations in July 2018.”

“Discussions between DIT and the Crown Dependencies continue on a range of Trade Policy topics.”

The document added: “We will continue to seek views from the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar, during any potential future FTA negotiations to ensure that their interests and priorities are properly taken into account.”

The mandate hinted London could reconsider its plans to introduce the tax in April on big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon after criticism by Washington.

The government said its analysis showed a deal with the United States could boost transatlantic trade by 15.3 billion pounds over 15 years, and increase the size of the British economy by 0.16%.

The United States is currently Britain's biggest trading partner after the EU, accounting for nearly 19% of all its exports in 2018 and 11% of imports. By comparison, the EU accounted for 45% of all UK exports and 53% of UK imports.

Mr Johnson, the face of Britain's campaign to leave the EU, has repeatedly said the ability to strike new trade deals with other countries is a major benefit of Brexit.

But opposition political parties said the modest potential boost to gross domestic product would not make up for the economic hit Britain will take from leaving the EU.

Labour's shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said "we stand to lose more than we gain" under the Government's proposals, which he said are "likely to cost us dearly".

"The Government used to talk about 'the sunlit uplands' of their plans for the future. Well these uplands look pretty rocky and there's not much sun," he added.

Liberal Democrat international trade spokeswoman Sarah Olney accused the PM of being "seemingly hellbent on risking UK prosperity".

"Boris Johnson has repeatedly claimed that negative impacts of Brexit will pale in comparison to the benefits," she said.

"But today's analysis is clear: the gains from the best-case trade deal with Donald Trump will not come close to outweighing what we expect to lose from leaving the EU."

The government said manufacturers of cars, ceramics, food and drink, and professional services including architects and lawyers, would be among the biggest winners from the trade deal.

"Trading Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats, we will deliver lower prices and more choice for our shoppers," Mr Johnson said.
Both sides hope a deal can be reached as soon as this year, but there are many hurdles.

The government reiterated that the NHS was "not for sale" -- addressing criticism that a deal could let private U.S. healthcare providers into Britain's state-funded health system.

It also vowed to uphold high standards on food safety and animal welfare amid fears from farmers that the government will allow U.S.-produced chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef into Britain.

"In a trade deal with the U.S., we will not diminish our food safety standards and we will also not put the NHS on the table," British trade minister Liz Truss said. "If we don't get the deal we want we will be prepared to walk away."

Washington's negotiating objectives, published last year, include pressing for full market access for U.S. pharmaceutical products and medical devices, which would require changes to NHS pricing restrictions and could increase the cost of drugs.

Britain's Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser, Crawford Falconer, who previously worked as New Zealand's chief negotiator, will represent the government in the talks, supported by dozens of officials.

Reuters and PA contributed reporting to this article.

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