IN BALI – Hopes for a free-trade deal between Britain and the US appear to be dead after Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden did not raise the issue during their first one-on-one meeting.
The Prime Minister and the President spent just under 40 minutes speaking at the G20 summit in Bali on Wednesday. They agreed that Brexit problems in Northern Ireland should be resolved by the spring, when the region will mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The two leaders, who have a 38-year age gap, also discussed a range of topics including the war in Ukraine, how to boost economic links, and the Aukus submarine pact with Australia.
But negotiations over a free-trade agreement, which officials hoped would be signed by this year, did not come up in their conversation, Mr Sunak said.
He told a press conference: “We had a very good conversation with President Biden on a range of things. We didn’t discuss the trade deal in particular, but we did discuss our economic partnership and both of us acknowledged the fact that, actually, the United States is our single largest trading partner, and there is a range of economic co-operation that is happening and can continue to happen in the future.
“We talked about energy, for example, and how we can work together to improve energy security at a time when we’re all wanting to have more of that at home.
“So I am filled with optimism about our ability to do more trade with the US, to deepen our economic relationship, but that can happen in lots of different ways and you will see that in the coming months and years I am sure.”
When Donald Trump was president he frequently expressed enthusiasm for a trade deal with Britain, but talks stalled following a sustained backlash within the UK against the idea of compromising on animal welfare standards when importing American food.
During their bilateral meeting, Mr Sunak and Mr Biden agreed that Northern Ireland’s trade difficulties as a result of the Brexit deal should be resolved through negotiations with the EU by April, when the Good Friday Agreement will have been in place for 25 years.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “The Prime Minister did refer to that anniversary next year, and ensuring that we get a negotiated settlement that protects the Good Friday Agreement by then.”
At the beginning of the meeting, when reporters were allowed in the room, Mr Sunak told the President: “It’s a great honour to have the opportunity to sit down with you. I think the partnership between our countries is unique and enduring.
“And of course, it’s bigger than any two individuals. I’m proud to have stewardship of it at the moment. And as you said, the United States is our closest ally, biggest trading partner, closest security partner.”
Aides said the encounter was “very friendly and warm”, with Mr Biden putting his hand on Mr Sunak’s back at various points.