Anne-Marie Trevelyan is heading to Washington in her first overseas trip since becoming international trade secretary as the government pursues a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US.
But despite the UK’s eagerness to ramp up trade ties with its transatlantic partner, President Joe Biden appears to have little interest in talks amid an ongoing row over steel tariffs.
The so-called Section 232 tariffs were slapped on steel and aluminium by former President Donald Trump on national security grounds.
Biden has already done a deal with the European Union to ease the tariffs – but the UK continues to be left out in the cold.
Reports earlier this months suggested that Washington was refusing to lift the tariffs as part of a bid to put pressure on London not to make any rash moves over Brexit, amid ongoing tension over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Despite Penny Mordaunt, a junior trade minister, suggesting that claims the two issues are linked is a “false narrative”, there are fears in the British government that Brexit remains a factor, according to Politico.
With Trevelyan preparing to meet US counterpart Katherine Tai on Tuesday and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Wednesday, her opposite number in Westminster, Nick Thomas-Symonds, has urged her to secure a deal to protect manufacturing jobs ahead of Christmas.
In a letter, Labour’s shadow trade secretary said that EU steelmakers will have a “significant advantage” over UK industry once Biden’s deal with Brussels kicks in, saying: “This situation is urgent as customers in the United States will be factoring this into their plans for next year now. Steel is a foundational sector for our national economy and with jobs and livelihoods across the whole of the UK dependent on it.”
Biden’s approach to the row has riled pro-Brexit Tory backbenchers. Andrew Bridgen accused the president of seeking to “interfere in UK affairs”, telling Politico: “Due to his misguided actions, the ‘special relationship’ is at an all-time low.”
‘From Teeside to Tulsa’
It comes as new research on the role of US-owned businesses in the UK published by the department suggested the US has been the UK’s largest single inward investment partner country for the last two decades.
According to DIT analysis, US-owned businesses supported 1.48 million UK jobs in 2019.
It added that 60 per cent of these jobs were outside London and the South East.
Wholesale and retail accounted for 29 per cent of UK employment in US-owned businesses in 2019, followed by 22 per cent in scientific, technical and IT activities.
Trevelyan said: “From Teesside to Tulsa, there are huge opportunities to deepen the trading links benefiting communities on both sides of the Atlantic
“We’ve already made strong progress; from getting British beef and lamb back on US plates, to lowering the cost of Scotch whisky exports by addressing the long-running Airbus-Boeing issue.
“Now is the time to hit the ground running and get on with boosting ties with our closest ally.”