Roundup: UK, U.S. launch trade negotiations via video link amid COVID-19 outbreak

Source: Xinhua| 2020-05-06 02:03:05|Editor: huaxia

LONDON, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Struggling in crucial talks with the European Union (EU) after its departure from the bloc on Jan. 31, Britain on Tuesday started the negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States by videoconference amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to the British Department for International Trade (DIT), the first round of negotiations will last for approximately two weeks and will involve around 100 negotiators on each side. Further rounds will take place approximately every six weeks and will be carried out remotely until it is safe to travel.

Saying that transatlantic trade can help the British economy bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss reiterated that London will drive "a hard bargain" to secure a deal that benefits the whole country.

While Downing Street sees new opportunities in the deal for the country's businesses, opposition party and some farm leaders warn of high risks a new deal may bring to the British market.

The opposition Labour Party said the National Health Service (NHS), food standards and workers' rights should not be sacrificed in the deal with the world's largest economic power.

There are rising concerns in Britain that the trade deal would lower barriers to controversial U.S. exports such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone treated beef. Farm leaders have called on the government to make a clear statement of food imports to the country in post-Brexit trade deals.

"Allowing food produced to low animal welfare and environmental standards to undercut UK farmers is unacceptable," said Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), an organization for owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales.

He noted that if the U.S. wants greater access to Britain's food market, they must conform to British high standards and the British government must legislate to protect their farmers in all future trade deals.

Experts also argue a trade deal with the United States could not compensate for a distant relationship with the EU.

Thomas Sampson, associate professor of the Department of Economics at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), considered it "a mistake" for Britain to start negotiating with the United States at this stage.

"Potential gains from U.S. deal are much smaller than costs of leaving the EU," he said, citing the government's own analysis suggesting an ambitious U.S. deal would raise Britain's GDP by around 0.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the two countries are still struggling to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. As of Tuesday, Britain has overtaken Italy as the worst-hit country in Europe by the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, the second round of talks on a trade deal between Britain and the EU ended with limited progress as vast differences remained.

"The government has limited resources -- expertise, money, attention. Right now, talks with the U.S. are a distraction from dealing with COVID-19 and from UK-EU negotiations," said Sampson. Enditem