WASHINGTON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made clear to President Joe Biden on Saturday that he’s eager to forge a new US-UK trade deal.
The push for a new deal came in a broad-ranging call between the two leaders that touched on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the Biden administration announcing this week that the US would rejoin the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organisation, according to a statement from Downing Street.
A new trade agreement between the allies is a higher priority for Johnson than it is for Biden. The UK regained control over its national trade policy at the start of the month following the end of a post-Brexit transition period. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration had no timeline for forging a new trade deal as Biden’s attention is largely focused on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and pressing Congress to pass the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
Janet Yellen, Biden’s Treasury secretary nominee, also signaled during her confirmation hearing earlier this week that Biden wasn’t eager to negotiate new trade deals. President Biden has been clear that he will not sign any new free trade agreements before the US makes major investments in American workers and our infrastructure, Yellen said.
Downing Street said that Biden and Johnson discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries,” and Johnson reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible.”
The White House in its own statement said that the two leaders spoke about combating climate change, containing Covid-19, and ensuring global health security as well as shared foreign policy priorities in China, Iran and Russia. But the statement notably made no mention of discussion on trade.
The call with Johnson was at least Biden’s third call with a foreign counterpart since Friday. The president spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador on Friday evening.Johnson congratulated Biden on his inauguration and “the two leaders looked forward to deepening the close alliance between our nations”, said the statement from Downing Street.
British newspapers reported that Johnson was the first European leader to receive a call from Biden, who earlier spoke to Canadian and Mexican counterparts.
The right-wing Sunday Telegraph reported that Johnson was the first leader outside North America to speak to Biden “after his scheduled call was brought forward two days in what will be seen as a major boost for the special relationship between the UK and US.”Johnson tweeted a picture of himself in shirt-sleeves laughing as he spoke on the phone. “Great to speak to President @JoeBiden this evening,” he wrote.
The conversation appeared aimed at warming frosty relations after Biden in 2019 described Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump, his predecessor as US president.
Biden has also been critical of Johnson’s Brexit policy, but the Downing Street statement said the leaders “discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries”.Biden, who has Irish roots, had warned ahead of his election that if Brexit damaged the 1998 Good Friday Agreement he would not consent to a trade deal. That agreement ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. Johnson praised Biden for swiftly reversing policy decisions made by his predecessor.