North American trade: insights and expectations

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Key takeaways from a recent event with Antony Phillipson, HM Trade Commissioner for North America.

  • Trade agreements with US and Canada are on track
  • The green agenda is becoming increasingly important
  • Businesses should pay attention to state level policy and engagement

As HM Trade Commissioner for North America, Antony Phillipson oversees all Department for International Trade (DIT) work in North America. His remit includes growing bilateral trade and investment as well as improving market access for British companies, including startups.

Phillipson took part in a recent Barclays ‘In Conversation’ event, hosted by Russ Grazier, Head of Export Finance for Barclays. Here are some of the key insights from the event.

Covid-19, recovery and renewal

Covid-19 is having a significant impact on the all aspects of trade and is putting pressure on existing problem areas. There is, however, an opportunity to develop greater access to markets as part of the wider Covid recovery and renewal process that will take place worldwide. Phillipson said this was certainly the case for the ongoing US/UK trade negotiations.

Impact on supply chains and markets

The UK government initiative ‘Project Defend’ is analysing the impact of the pandemic on over 60 global supply chains to ensure self-reliance in critical areas. Sectors that are already tech-enabled – such as FinTech – are seeing opportunities arise from the pandemic and may show routes to growth for other businesses.

Clean growth

Environmental strategies are a key focus for the Department of Trade in North America. New York is a centre for green finance and the topic featured heavily at the recent Climate Week NYC 2020, co-hosted by the UN and the City of New York.

The importance of US states

Phillipson highlighted that while there are extensive US/UK negotiations at national level, there is also a lot of work at the state level to address some of the issues UK businesses face when trading with the US. He highlighted the green agenda as one area where there is a lot of engagement at a sub-national level within the business community and with state governors. Startups may have very different experiences of markets in New York and California, for example.

US/UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

Four rounds of negotiations have been completed and progress has been made. The last round was significant as detailed market access texts were exchanged. Phillipson commented that while some people seem disappointed about the level of progress made, agreements between the first and fifth biggest economies in the world were inevitably hugely complex. He had no doubt there will be an agreement.

Timelines for the FTA

Phillipson said that while some people have seen the election as a deadline, another milestone to consider is the expiry of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). The TPA is given by Congress to the US administration and is a framework for trading negotiations. It expires in July 2021, has been extended once and cannot be extended again. It also sets out how Congressional scrutiny will be conducted and the timelines suggest that an agreement would need to be signed by early April 2021.

US Agricultural products and the FTA

This is one of the more contentious issues in the FTA, stated Phillipson, adding that he felt it was nonetheless attracting undue level of attention. The UK has been very clear that it will continue to maintain standards of food and animal welfare, he said. It is creating its own system of agricultural regulations through the Agriculture Bill and has been clear on its position around issues such as chlorinated chicken.

UK-Canada Trade Deal

Trade negotiations are currently under-way with the aim of providing businesses with certainty and stability in the trade relationship at the end of 2020. Phillipson was confident an agreement will be reached soon.

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