Donald Trump’s most senior business representative has warned any post-Brexit deal with Washington will hinge on the UK scrapping rules set by Brussels, including regulations governing imports of chlorinated chicken.
Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, suggested European regulations governing the safety of imports such as chlorine-washed chicken ignored US scientific research. His comments underline the potential difficulties in striking a free trade deal with the US once Britain leaves the EU.
The key Trump adviser, who was separately caught on Monday at the heart of the furore over the Paradise Papers, said changing these regulations will form a “critical component of any trade discussion,” between London and Washington, while the UK should also take steps to remove “unnecessary regulatory divergences” with the US.
Speaking in front of an audience of business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry annual conference in London on Monday, Ross warned any deal with Brussels to maintain its regulations might “hinder development of a closer post-Brexit US-UK relationship”.
He also said it was important for the UK’s deal to leave the EU to take into account America’s “commercial interests”. He said that Trump was “very supportive” of a trade deal between London and Washington.
Ross said the UK would need to change rules in areas such as food safety, as well as take steps to bring the standards for the manufacturing of medical devices closer in line with the US. Criticising EU regulations, he referred to the “limited role of science” in assessing risks related to certain foodstuffs, amid an ongoing row over safety of chlorinated chicken.
Geographic indicators on food products, the registration and documentation of chemical exports, as well as automotive industry standards and trade tariffs are also “key impediments” to expanded trade, he said. “Something we hope to be able to quickly fix between our two countries,” he added.
Ross’s comments are likely to fuel concerns that controversial clauses will be attached to any post-Brexit trade deal with Washington. A political row was ignited in Westminster over the summer after Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, suggested the UK should be open to the prospect of allowing poultry treated with a chlorine wash process, which is banned by the EU, as part of a trade deal with the US.
Fox defended the practice last week, despite assurances from Michael Gove, the food and environment secretary, that there were no circumstances under which chlorinated chicken would be allowed in the UK after the UK leaves the EU.
Ross also bemoaned the lack of US involvement in the EU standard-setting process. These “hindrances... [are] potentially ones that the UK could help solve if you don’t simply adopt EU trade policy in its entirety [after Brexit]”, he added.
Washington trade representatives and American industry experts are due to hold a second round of “preliminary scoping discussions” in London next week, after the first meetings in Washington in July, he said.
He added: “As the UK stands on the edge of the major changes coming with Brexit, we stand ready to use this opportunity to support our friends across the pond and to deepen our ties even further.”
The Department for International Trade said: “The US is our largest single trading partner, and the comments today from Wilbur Ross reaffirm the clear will on both sides of the Atlantic to strengthen our bilateral trade and investment relationship.
“As an international economic department we are laying the groundwork for a potential free trade agreement and remain committed to a mutually beneficial economic trading arrangement with the US. We have been clear that the UK will maintain its own high regulatory standards in future free trade agreements.”
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