Trump administration moves to open trade talks with UK, Japan, EU after NAFTA win

The Trump administration informed Congress Tuesday that it intends to open trade talks with the United Kingdom, European Union and Japan -- coming off a win for President Trump in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrote to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress informing them that the U.S. will initiate talks with Japan and the E.U. “as soon as practicable, but no earlier than 90 days from the date of this notice.” Lighthizer said the U.S. will open negotiations with the U.K. “as soon as it is ready” after it exits the E.U. in March 2019.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we will continue to expand U.S. trade and investment by negotiating trade agreements with Japan, the EU and the United Kingdom,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important milestone in that process. We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”

The announcements come on the heels of the administration’s renegotiation of NAFTA with Mexico and Canada -- now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USCMA). A vote on that agreement is expected in Congress in 2019.

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Trump, who has criticized U.S. trade policies for decades, also pulled the U.S. out of the Obama-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and is currently in a tariff showdown with China as he seeks to change what he has described as an "unfair" trading relationship with Beijing.

Trump, a strong supporter of Brexit, has repeatedly promised to make a strong trade deal with the U.K. -- a promise that so-called “Brexiteers” in the U.K. have brandished as proof that the U.K. can stand by itself outside of the E.U. Trade between the two countries is worth more than $230 billion and accounts for a fifth of all U.K. exports.

It also provides a welcome boost for embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, who is facing pressure from not only the E.U. but members of her own party who fear she is going to concede too much to Brussels in negotiations. May was traveling to Brussels on Tuesday for negotiations with E.U. leaders amid a stalemate over the “backstop” -- a plan on how to avoid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in case there is no deal between the E.U. and the U.K.

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“The UK welcomes the U.S. administration’s confirmation that it intends to begin negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the U.K.once we have left the E.U.,” a British government spokesperson said.

E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels Wednesday that negotiations have not started yet but the E.U. is prepared to start a “scoping exercise on a limited agreement focused on industrial goods, on tariffs” but the U.S. has so far not shown interest in that.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, welcomed the moves for agreements with the E.U., Japan and the U.K.

“I commend President Trump for working to open up more customers in new markets for U.S. farmers and companies,” he said in a statement. “The progress that has been made to prepare for such negotiations is encouraging.”

Lighthizer’s office said that the U.S. will publish objectives for the negotiations at least a month before they begin.