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UPDATE 3-U.S., Britain upbeat as trade talks enter new round

Tue, 20th Oct 2020 18:54

(Adds details, UK comment on intensifying talks)

By Tim Hepher and William James

LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The United States and Britain
expressed optimism about the prospects of a trade deal on
Tuesday as they launched the latest round of talks focused on
goods and tariffs.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a security
conference he was "very pleased" with progress in negotiations
with Britain and predicted a trade deal "reasonably soon".

British trade minister Liz Truss said the two sides were
intensifying talks as they enter a fifth round.

Britain has put a U.S. trade deal at the top of its
post-Brexit wish list, having cited the freedom to strike
bilateral deals as one of the main benefits of leaving the
European Union.

No target date for an agreement has been set, however, and
Truss has had to rebut opposition criticism that a deal would
mean lowering food standards and allowing U.S. companies access
to the British health system.

Lighthizer, speaking by video link from Washington to a
British government conference on transatlantic co-operation,
said talks were taking place continuously.

"These things take time ... but we are making great headway
and we have got 30-some groups negotiating and negotiating
bitterly right now," Lighthizer told the Atlantic Future Forum.

"I am optimistic across the board and I think that it is
going to happen reasonably soon," he said.

Truss, speaking by remote link to the same conference, said
western port cities like Liverpool would benefit from a U.S.
trade deal as Britain widens its gaze beyond a 45-year-old bias
in favour of trade ties with the EU.

The tone of the public exchange contrasted with a stand-off
between London and Brussels over Britain's future trade ties
with the EU following its exit from the bloc in January.

The EU and Britain urged each other on Tuesday to compromise
to avoid a disruptive Brexit finale.

Lighthizer, who has named the UK trade talks one of his top
priorities for 2020, has called for full access for U.S.
agricultural products.

The two sides are seen at odds, however, over tariffs
including U.S. steel and aluminium duties imposed in 2018.

AIRCRAFT DISPUTE

A growing potential flashpoint concerns Britain's close
links to jetmaker Airbus, which is at the centre of a
16-year-old transatlantic trade spat over aircraft subsidies.

The EU has won the right to hit back with tariffs on U.S.
goods to punish U.S. subsidies to Boeing - a year after
Washington slapped duties on EU goods over subsidies granted to
Airbus by Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Washington will "strike
back harder" at any European tariffs.

Analysts say Britain is squeezed between applying its share
of the tariffs in defence of Airbus and risking a setback in
trade talks with the United States, or delaying them and further
corroding tense talks over a European trade deal.

Without referring to recent tariff wars between the United
States and China, Truss questioned the use of tariffs but did
not address how Britain would handle the Boeing subsidies case.

"Even before the COVID crisis started we have seen trade
barriers going up and we have seen tariffs being raised, and
that surely is not the answer," Truss said.

Lighthizer defended the right of nations to defend their
trade interests but said this did not amount to protectionism.

"Nationalism is not necessarily a bad thing. ... Countries
becoming stronger is not necessarily inconsistent with
international trade," he told the conference.

Both officials called for an overhaul of the Geneva-based
World Trade Organization as it prepares to select a new leader.

"There is no doubt that there needs to be reform at the WTO.
We need to make the global trading system work," Truss said.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher
Editing by Alison Williams, Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis)

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