One of the mantras of the Brexiteers since the vote has been that we should negotiate ‘free trade’ deals with lots of other countries rather than restricting ourselves solely to those in the EU. And one of their great hopes has been that there will be an early deal with the USA. During his long and meandering ramble last week, Trump had something interesting to say about his approach to trade deals. In his own (inimitable) words, he said this:
“Now look, fair trade. Not free, fair. If a country is taking advantage of us, not going to let that happen anymore. Every country takes advantage of us almost. I may be able to find a couple that don’t. But for the most part, that would be a very tough job for me to do.”
It’s perfectly clear – well as clear as anything Trump says. Whilst the UK government think they’re going to negotiate a free trade deal with the US, he is interested only in ‘fair’ trade. He didn’t actually define what that means, but we can be sure that it isn’t what most of us mean when we think of the ‘FairTrade’ campaign. I suspect that he means trade which has a favourable, or at least neutral, balance for the US. On that criterion, the UK’s current trade surplus with the US amounts to “taking advantage” and his objective will be to end that. I can certainly see why that would be in the interest of the US, but why would anyone think that it’s in the interest of the UK?But then, I don’t think that the UK government has ever been concerned about the detail; they just want a deal, any deal, to show what ‘global Britain’ can achieve. From that perspective, the existence of a deal with the US is more important than its content, however harmful the latter may be.