The escalating trade conflict between the EU and the United States serves to heighten the case for a speedy and ‘Clean Brexit’. A prolonged departure, with an unnecessarily protracted exit from the Customs Union, risks seeing us caught up in a trade war we do not need to be part of.
US President Donald Trump has already made it clear his decision to slap tariffs on imports of EU steel and aluminium is in direct response to the unfair trade practices advanced by the European establishment. However, he is not a trend-setter in this regard. The US has long bemoaned the level of protectionism exuded by the EU’s Common External Tariff, with countless WTO disputes to show for it. Indeed, in 2016, the Obama administration took strident action to counter European agricultural protectionism, which unfairly discriminated against US beef farmers.
Whilst the recent measures are undoubtedly more provocative than those implemented by his predecessor, American frustration with EU trade practices is not a feature unique to the current White House. Trump has stated that those who “are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military” will be greeted with cooperation and immunity from the charges. In this sense, therefore, it will be relatively straightforward for Britain’s manufacturing industry to dodge these latest measures after Brexit. Simply Leaving the Customs Union, and becoming an independent nation, will give the UK Government vital room to manoeuvre. By utilising the ‘special relationship’ between our two nations, emphasising British reliability in meeting defence spending targets – and our instinctive commitment to free trade – Britain is more than likely to secure an exemption.
The EU trade negotiator Cecilia Malmström hinted in her press conference today that the relationship between the US and the EU is set to undergo a “further weakening” as they exchange tit-for-tat blows and engage in a process of monumental grandstanding. A by-product of this will be the eradication of any lingering support for an EU-US trade deal during the Trump presidency. As the UK’s single biggest export market, securing a trade deal with the US would lubricate an ever-growing flow of trade – creating prosperity, jobs, and exciting Transatlantic links. Such a deal will remain an elusive pipe dream as long as we are in the EU.
Once we Get Britain Out of the EU however, it will be a completely different story.
Just last week Congressional leader, Paul Ryan, met with Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, and reiterated American desires “to forge a new trade agreement with Great Britain as soon as possible”. In the same week, US Senators unveiled the ‘UK Trade Caucus’ which aims to build on the groundswell of support for a bilateral trading arrangement – a sentiment which echoes Trump’s commitment to securing a “big, beautiful trade deal” after Brexit.