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USTR Says FTAs Are '20th Century Tools'

BALTIMORE -- U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai continued to throw cold water on the idea of reviving negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the United Kingdom, saying, "A free trade agreement is a tool. It is a very 20th century tool. It has its place certainly in the toolbox," she said, but said that she wants these U.K.-U.S. economic dialogues to be "maximally responsive" to today's trade challenges. She said she wants to make sure "that we don’t spend years and spend a lot of blood, sweat and tears working on something that isn't going to be relevant to the needs of our people or our economies."

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Still, she told journalists at a March 22 press conference at the end of two days of dialogues with her U.K. counterpart that she knows that congressional leaders of trade committees have enthusiasm for deepening trade with the U.K., and that they think because of the shared values between the two countries, it makes sense to liberalize trade with the U.K.

"We will be working closely with the Congress on all matters of international trade, and on this in particular," she said. And she reminded journalists that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., is very concerned with how the Northern Ireland-Ireland trade protocols develop so that the soft border between the two countries, which helped resolve violence in Northern Ireland, can be preserved.

She said that she and the U.K. Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan talked about the need for a green transition, the war in Ukraine, the shocks to the supply chain due to the pandemic and the "general fragility of this globalization we are experiencing." She said they are focusing on concrete, pragmatic solutions to these issues. She said they need to ask themselves new questions. "Not how do I beat your regulatory system into submission, or fend off your attempts to beat mine into submission, but how we can we align."

"Watch this space for how we build it out," she said.

Trevelyan told journalists, "Does the U.K. stand ready to pull together an FTA? Absolutely, we’ve said that for some time. The reason why we want to hold these dialogues is to be able to really think about where we want to be going with our relationship. We're not just talking about ... liberalizing tariffs ... we want to think about how we build that 21st century trading relationship." She said that part of that is capitalizing on the shared values the countries have, including supporting fair, competitive markets and the rule of law.