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U.S., British officials kick off talks to strengthen trade ties

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai speaks to members of the media following a tour of a silicon wafer plant being expanded by South Korean semiconductor manufacturer SK Siltron CSS, in Bay City, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2022.

By Andrea Shalal

BALTIMORE, Md. (Reuters) -U.S. and British officials kicked off two days of meetings to strengthen trade ties on Monday, underscoring transatlantic cooperation at a time when Western countries are ratcheting up pressure on Russia over its war in Ukraine.

The talks in the port city of Baltimore mark a broad effort to take stock of the $260 billion bilateral trade relationship, while specific disputes will be dealt with separately and formal talks on a free trade agreement remain on ice.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the two allies had resolved disputes over aircraft subsidies and digital services taxes over the past year, and were now working together closely to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.

“In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security, so it’s never been more important for us to work to strengthen our economic ties with our closest allies, like the United Kingdom,” Tai told a plenary attended by dozens of U.S. and British executives and trade officials.

Tai said U.S. and British officials would work to identify mutual trade priorities and promote “innovation and inclusive economic growth for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Key U.S. priorities include collaboration on expanding protection of labor rights and the environment, decarbonizing their economies, promoting racial and gender equity, building more resilient supply chains and tapping the “democratizing” benefits of the digital economy, U.S. officials said.

UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told business and labor leaders later that the huge shocks of recent years and weeks, an apparent reference to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, showed “that resilience and a different way of doing business is required. Protectionism is not the solution.”

Trevelyan said Britain was seeking to “forge even closer bonds of trade and investment between us, because we do more business together than any other two countries in the world.”

SANCTIONS AND TARIFFS

Close coordination on economic sanctions, export controls and trade measures against Russia have also brought the United States and Europe closer together as they address challenges posed by non-market economies like China, a U.S. official said.

Cathy Feingold, who leads the international department at the AFL-CIO labor union federation, welcomed efforts to give workers a voice in shaping trade policies and shifting away from free trade policies that resulted in “brutal global competition,” lower wages and lower standards of living in both countries.

“Our countries must be aligned in dealing with non-market economies like China and Russia and Belarus,” she said. “By building a unified approach, we can more effectively create global rules that create fair competition and higher worker and environmental standards.”

The two sides are “making good progress” in separate talks on resolving a dispute over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs that helped clear the way for this week’s broader talks, Trevelyan said. Those talks are ongoing, another UK official said.

Washington also remains concerned about UK food safety standards that prevent imports of U.S. chlorine-treated chicken, but will address that issue separately, a second official said.

This week’s meetings do not mark a resumption of formal free trade talks held under the former Trump administration that were suspended once President Joe Biden took office, much to the chagrin of business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.

Duncan Edwards, chief executive of BritishAmerican Business, a transatlantic trade group that represents 450 companies, welcomed the meetings, adding, “We’d much rather see a resumption of the actual free trade agreement discussions.”

Marjorie Chorlins, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agreed, adding, “We should have been able to restart the U.S.-UK negotiations. We were five rounds in and a lot of great work was done.”

Washington has hit the pause button on such agreements, which have historically been viewed skeptically by labor leaders, viewing them as “just one tool at our disposal.”

The two sides will meet again later this spring in Britain, but the location has not been finalized, officials said.

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