British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has played down prospects of striking a trade agreement with US President Donald Trump within 12 months. He said the timetable was "tight" and would require flexibility from the US. Trump had talked up the prospects for a US-UK trade agreement when the two men met face to face at Biarritz on Sunday, for the first time since Johnson took the office.
Trump had said they would sign a "very big trade deal, bigger than we've ever had", once the UK is freed from the "anchor" of the European Union around its "ankle". Meanwhile, Johnson said the US would like to do a deal within a year, but while he would "love" to achieve that, "to do it all within a year is going to be tight". He confirmed he had reiterated his opposition to the NHS being opened up to US firms as part of any trade deal, and to the UK lowering animal welfare standards to US levels to get a deal.
He said, "Not only have I made clear of that, the president has made that very, very clear. There is complete unanimity on that point." Johnson also suggested there would be "tough talks ahead". On his way to the G7 Summit, Johnson pointed to the complexity of a potential deal when he gave a shopping list of products, from cauliflowers to shower trays to insurance, on which he said the UK would be pressing for the US to lower trade barriers. Trump and the PM spoke to reporters ahead of a working breakfast, accompanied by advisers and officials. Trump described Johnson as "the right man" to deliver Brexit.
When asked what his advice was for Brexit, Trump said, "He needs no advice. He is the right man for the job." Johnson said Trump was "on message there." After the meeting, both governments released a joint statement, saying they would launch a "special relationship economic working group" (SREWG) to "develop market-oriented principles for economic growth and increase bilateral cooperation on issues related to the modern 21st century economy."
Before the meeting, Johnson had said he would raise with Trump the issue of the increasingly bitter trade spat between the US and China, and press him to throw open the US market to British goods after Brexit. When Trump was asked by reporters if allies were pressuring him to give up his trade war with China, he said, "Not at all".
He said his predecessors had allowed Beijing to "get away with taking hundreds of billions of dollars out every year, putting it into China." Johnson, meanwhile, told reporters en route to Biarittz that he was "very, very concerned" about the tit for tat conflict between the US and China. Both countries have imposed tariffs on a swathe of each other's imports, as the White House accuses Beijing of unfair competition and China hits back.
Last week, Johnson had said, "This is not the way to proceed. Apart from anything else, those who support the tariffs are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy, irrespective of whether that is true. I want to see an opening up of global trade, I want to see a dialing down of tensions, and I want to see tariffs come off." Johnson's language alongside Trump was more conciliatory. He said, "I congratulate the president on everything the American economy is achieving. It's fantastic to see that. But just to register a faint, sheep like note of our view on the trade war - we are in favour of trade peace on the whole."