Britain First as Trump Trades-in Trading Partners

By Kate Burrows-Jones North America Editor

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with President Donald Trump in the US on Friday. Trade is set to be at the top of their agenda, as his spokesman, Sean Spicer, said in a press briefing on Monday, adding that the American leader was looking forward to a positive and warm meeting.  “We always had a close and special relationship, but we can also be closer,” the White House Press Secretary told reporters.  The Prime Minister will be the first world leader to meet with the US President indicating a resounding reinforcement of the special bond between the US and UK. The Prime Minister is expected to talk about free trade and NATO.

Keeping his campaign promise, President Trump today signed an executive order announcing a plan to remove the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP,) a trade deal involving 12 nations.  President Barack Obama hoped to push the deal through before leaving office. Trump previously said it was potentially disastrous and he would instead cut bilateral deals with better protections for US workers. His Press Secretary emphasised a switch in trade policy from multilateral trade to bilateral trade. The new administration does not want to make agreements which require multiple nations to agree to any changes, preferring the freedom to negotiate with one party to leave or change terms of a deal. The new President met with business leaders over breakfast asking them what obstacles they faced in investment, job growth, regulations and trade policies.  He agreed to meet with them on a monthly basis. He also met with union leaders. Spicer said he listened and asked questions.  

Negotiation of new trade deals will be led by nominee for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, if confirmed, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and White House Trade Council Head, Peter Navarro.  Many Democrats applauded the move out of the TPP over concerns for labour and environmental protections. Others felt the deal would be a positive counter to China in the Pacific Rim. Japan had ratified the deal.  

Trump is also expected to announce soon that he is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. White House advisor (and Trump’s son-in-law) Jared Kushner will hold talks Tuesday with Canada’s cabinet.

Separately, the Prime Minister had a telephone call with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the importance of the Nato alliance as a conservator of defence and a counter to terror and cyberattack. Downing Street sources say Mrs May will take that message to Washington DC when she is expected to discuss NATO with President Trump. He has long decried the Alliance, saying members don’t pay their fair share, even calling it’s structure  “obsolete.” The newly appointed US Defence Secretary, General James Mattis has affirmed the commitment to NATO in his confirmation hearings, having also said prior to the hearings that the Russian president Vladimir Putin would like to break it.  The Daily Express is reporting that Senior British officers who serve at the Pentagon have said the Trump administration rejects talk of an EU Army by Germany and France; a view shared by London. It would take resources from NATO and there can only be one joint force.