‘Even our best friends have to play by the rules’: US Commerce Secretary calls for Britain to fall in line with American standards post-Brexit

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaks at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in London, Britain, November 6, 2017.

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaks at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference in London, Britain, November 6, 2017.
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REUTERS/Mary Turner

    US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in London speech that the US “want[s] to be your number one trading partner worldwide” post-Brexit. But Ross attacked “regulatory divergence” between EU and US, and called for Britain to follow US standards to boost trade. Asked about recent aircraft tariffs that have put 1,000 Northern Irish jobs at risk, Ross said: “Even our best friends really have to play by the rules.”

LONDON – US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has called for Britain to fall in line with US regulatory and safety standards post-Brexit in order to boost trade between the two nations.

On his first visit to London since becoming Commerce Secretary, Ross said that the “relationship between the US and UK has never been stronger.”

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s annual conference, Ross said: “Our relationship can be even stronger. We want more trade and more investment. We want to be your number one trading partner worldwide.”

He added that President Trump places an “especially great deal of emphasis” on striking a trade deal between the pair post-Brexit.

However, Ross stressed that any trade agreement between the pair would have to be “free, fair, and reciprocal” and the billionaire former businessman repeatedly attacked “regulatory divergence” between the US and the EU.

Ross said that Britain must “reduce unnecessary divergence in regulation and standards” to boost trade and listed specific grievances he had heard from US businesses that trade with the EU. These included:

    limited or no access to the EU’s standards-setting process; a lack of transparency and “ability to participate” in the regulatory process; “limited use of science in assessing risk” of chemical processes in farming and other organic matter; barriers to trade in the digital economy; EU tariffs that are higher than in the US.

US President Donald Trump with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington.

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US President Donald Trump with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington.
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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Ross attacked “burdensome and unnecessary” EU labelling requirements for chemicals, “geographic indicators on food products”, and called for the UK to allow car manufacturers to self-certify that vehicles meet safety standards.

Britain’s future trading relationship with the US is proving a controversial subject. There is a high profile disagreement in the UK cabinet over whether to allow US chlorine-washed chicken, currently banned in the EU, to be allowed into Britain.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said there are “no health reasons” to stop trade, but Environment Secretary Michael Gove has objected to the controversial cleaning method.

Ross, who was named in the “Paradise Papers” tax disclosures over the weekend, said that the US was unable to begin trade negotiations with the UK until it has officially left the EU, but said the tw0 nations are holding “preliminary scoping discussions.”

“Despite what challenges lie ahead, the UK will continue to be a valuable partner post-Brexit both bilaterally and on the world stage,” Ross said.

‘Even our best friends really have to play by the rules’

President Trump has repeatedly said that a trade deal with Britain post-Brexit is one of his top priorities. However, there are fears that Britain may not get a good deal, with politicians pointing to a dispute between the US and Canada over aircraft that has put British jobs under threat.

A man works on a C Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland September 26, 2017.

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A man works on a C Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland September 26, 2017.
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REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The US Department of Commerce announced plans to levy a 220% tariff on every Bombardier C Series airliner imported into the US in September.

The ruling follows claims from rival Boeing that Bombardier’s C-series planes were being sold into the US at abnormally low prices due to Canadian state subsidies, at the detriment of Boeing’s own planes.

Bombardier is a Canadian company but has a significant manufacturing base in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the wings of C Series aircrafts are manufactured.

The factory employs around 4,500 people. Roughly 1,000 of those work on C Series planes and the tariff has led to speculation that jobs could be at risk.

Asked about the Bombardier tariff issue after his speech, Ross said: “Even our best friends must abide by the rules. To us, the real question is: is there subsidy? Is there the potential dumping of those aircrafts into the US market? Preliminary, our determination is there has been.

“The one thing I can assure you is that that particular case, like all the others, will be handled in a fair, transparent, professional, and even-handed way. We understand the political sensitivity, both here and in Canada. But the fundamentals remain: Even our best friends really have to play by the rules. We intend to and we intend that you will do so.”

Ross’ comments will likely be seized upon by “hard” Brexiteers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has argued against Britain simply adopting EU standards and regulations wholesale post-Brexit to prevent disruption to the UK’s trading relationship with the continent.

However, “hard” Brexiteers – who favour a clean break from Europe – may object to Ross’ comments about opening up Britain’s regulatory and standard-setting process to US influence. One of the key arguments in favour of Brexit was returning sovereignty to Westminster from Brussels.