By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor
The US administration has formally confirmed it intends to pursue a trade deal with the UK “as soon as it is ready” after leaving the EU.
Donald Trump’s trade representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress of plans to open negotiations with the UK, as well as with the EU and Japan.
Talks with the EU and Japan are intended to begin “as soon as practicable”, and certainly within 90 days, but the US-UK negotiations will have to wait until after the date of Brexit on March 29 next year.
A bilateral trade deal with the US is regarded by many supporters of EU withdrawal as the jewel in the crown of Brexit.
Any discussions are certain to spark intense controversy over the potential involvement of American corporations in the NHS as well as expected US demands for access to UK markets for GM crops, hormone-enhanced beef and chlorine-washed chicken.
Mr Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has warned continued UK adherence to EU environmental, workplace and animal welfare standards following Brexit could present “landmines” in the way of a deal.
In letters to senior members of Congress, Mr Lighthizer said: “I am pleased to notify Congress that the president intends to initiate negotiations on a trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
“We intend to initiate negotiations with the United Kingdom as soon as it is ready after it exits the European Union on March 29 2019.”
Mr Lighthizer said an “ambitious” US-UK deal could further expand the two countries’ deep trade and investment relationship “by removing existing goods and services tariff, and non-tariff trade barriers, and by developing cutting-edge obligations for emerging sectors where US and UK innovators and entrepreneurs are most competitive.”
Although the UK cannot formally open negotiations until after it has left the EU, Mr Lighthizer and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox launched a working group in July 2017 to pave the way for eventual talks immediately after Brexit.
Mr Lighthizer said the US administration was “committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for US consumers, businesses, farmers, ranchers and workers, consistent with US priorities and the negotiations objectives established by Congress in statute”.